Is All Sugar Equal?

Simple sugars are considered simple because they are small molecules that require little or no digestion before they can be used by the body. They come in two types: monosaccharides and disaccharides. First, here is a little sugar biochemistry.

Types of Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are chemical compounds that contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Simple carbs, also called sugars include monosaccharides (fructose, glucose, and galactose)  and disaccharides (sucrose, lactose, and maltose). They are found in foods such as table sugar, honey, milk, and fruit.

Complex carbohydrate include oligosaccharides and polysaccharides. Glycogen is a polysaccharide found in animals, and starch and fiber polysaccharides are found in plants. Sugars and starches consumed in food are broken down in the digestive tract to monosaccharides which can be absorbed in the bloodstream.

The simple sugars the body uses directly to form energy are glucose and fructose. Galactose is readily converted to glucose by the body. So, basically, all sugars and starches (chains of glucose) end up as glucose in the body. When the body has more glucose  than it needs for energy, it converts the excess to fat and and glycogen. The glycogen is stored in the liver and muscles. When the body needs energy, glycogen is broken down making glucose available for energy formation. Glucose can also be obtained from certain amino acids and the glycerol part of fat. A constant supply is needed for the brain, red blood cells, white blood cells and some special cells in the kidney.

What are Added Sugars?

It is now a requirement to state the amount of added sugars on the Nutrition Facts Panel of most food products. Most of the simple sugars in our diet comes from foods and beverages sweeteners as sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup. Added sugars make up 15% of the total caloric intake of Americans.

High-fructose corn syrup is a liquid sweetener found in many soft drinks, fruit drinks, breakfast cereals and other food products.  It consists of 55% fructose and 45% glucose, compared to sucrose that contains 50% glucose and 50% fructose. For example, one 12 oz serving of a soft drink contains about 9 teaspoons of sugar. That’s a lot of sugar and far more than is good for health.

The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 6 teaspoons a day and men only 9 teaspoons a day.

Source: Judith E. Brown, Nutrition Now,  7th Edition.

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