Balancing your sugar intake is a common concern for those seeking a healthier lifestyle. Does it really matter what kind of sugar you choose to eat? Yes. Let's see the different types of sugars and their absorption in your body.
There are three different sugars commonly seen and discussed are - sucrose, glucose, and fructose - all have the same number of calories per gram. They’re all found naturally in fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and grains but are also added to many processed foods. There are other sugars also like lactose, galactose and maltose.
They differ in their chemical structures, how they are digested and metabolized in your body, and how they affect your health.
This article compares the main differences between sucrose, glucose, and fructose and their absorption and utilization in the body.
Sucrose: The Common Table Sugar
Sucrose, also known as table sugar, is a type of disaccharide sugar. Disaccharides are sugars composed of two linked monosaccharide ( Simplest form of sugar) molecules, which are broken down into monosaccharides during digestion.
Sucrose, specifically, is formed by the combination of one glucose molecule and one fructose molecule, making it consist of equal parts glucose and fructose. This natural carbohydrate is present in various fruits, vegetables, and grains, and it's also a common addition to processed foods like candies, ice cream, breakfast cereals, canned goods, and sweetened beverages.
Table sugar and sucrose in processed foods are typically derived from sugar cane or sugar beets. While sucrose is less sweet in taste compared to pure fructose, it is sweeter than glucose when considered on its own.
Glucose: The Primary Energy Source
Glucose, a monosaccharide or simple sugar, serves as the primary carbohydrate-based energy source for your body. Monosaccharides consist of a single sugar unit and cannot be further broken down into simpler compounds, making them the fundamental components of carbohydrates.
In various foods, glucose is typically bound to another simple sugar, forming either polysaccharide starches or disaccharides like sucrose and lactose. When added to processed foods, glucose is often in the form of dextrose, which is derived from sources like corn or wheat.
Particularly, glucose is less sweet when compared to both fructose and sucrose.
Fructose: A Sweet Fruit Sugar
Fructose, often referred to as "fruit sugar," is a monosaccharide similar to glucose. It occurs naturally in fruits, honey, agave, and many root vegetables. Additionally, it is frequently used as an additive in processed foods in the form of high fructose corn syrup.
Fructose is primarily sourced from sugar cane, sugar beets, and corn. High-fructose corn syrup, derived from cornstarch, contains a higher proportion of fructose relative to glucose compared to regular corn syrup.
Among the three sugars discussed, fructose possesses the sweetest taste but has the least noticeable impact on your blood sugar levels.
Digestion and Absorption of Sucrose, Glucose, and Fructose
Sugars undergo distinct processes of digestion and absorption in your body.
Monosaccharides, being the simplest form of sugar, can be readily utilized by your body without the need for further breakdown. They are directly absorbed into your bloodstream, with the majority of this absorption occurring in the small intestine.
Conversely, disaccharides such as sucrose require enzymatic breakdown into their individual sugar components before they can be absorbed.
Once these sugars are in their basic, individual forms, they follow different metabolic pathways within your body.
Absorption and Utilization of Glucose:
Glucose is a type of sugar that is absorbed directly through the lining of your small intestine into your bloodstream. Once in your bloodstream, it is delivered to your cells.
Compared to other types of sugars, glucose raises blood sugar levels more quickly, which stimulates the release of insulin. Insulin is necessary for glucose to enter your cells. Upon entering your cells, glucose is either immediately used to create energy or transformed into glycogen to be stored in your muscles or liver or fat cells for future use.
Your body is designed to tightly control your blood sugar levels. When they get too low, glycogen (stored glucose reserves) is broken down into glucose and released into your bloodstream to be used for energy. In case glucose is unavailable, your liver can create this type of sugar from other fuel sources.
Absorption and Utilization of Fructose:
Similar to glucose, fructose is directly absorbed into the bloodstream from the small intestine. It raises blood sugar levels at a slower pace than glucose and does not seem to have an immediate impact on insulin levels.
However, despite not raising blood sugar levels right away, it may have negative long-term effects. Before the body can use it for energy, the liver must convert fructose into glucose. Consumption of large amounts of fructose on a high-calorie diet can increase blood triglyceride levels. Moreover, excessive intake of fructose may raise the risk of metabolic syndrome and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
Absorption and Utilization of Sucrose:
Enzymes present in the mouth play a partial role in breaking down sucrose into glucose and fructose. However, the majority of sugar digestion takes place in the small intestine. Sucrase, an enzyme produced by the lining of the small intestine, splits sucrose into glucose and fructose. These two components are then absorbed into the bloodstream, as explained above.
Glucose enhances fructose absorption and triggers insulin release. Excess absorption of fructose can lead to the increased production of fat in the liver. This implies that the consumption of fructose and glucose together may have a greater effect on our health than consuming them separately. Added sugars such as high fructose corn syrup are linked to health issues.
Sugars to Avoid and Include:
There is no need to avoid natural sugars found in whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and dairy products as they contain fiber, water, and nutrients that counteract their negative effects.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it's advisable to restrict your daily calorie intake from added sugars to a range of 5-10%. To put it simply, if you're following a 2,000-calorie daily diet, your goal should be to consume no more than 25-50 grams of added sugars.
For example, consider 355 ml can of soda has about 40 grams of added sugar, which is enough to exceed your daily limit.
Glucose and fructose are simple sugars, also known as monosaccharides. Your body can absorb them more easily than the disaccharide sucrose, which needs to be broken down first. Experts agree that you should limit your intake of all types of added sugar, with added fructose having the most negative health effects.
However, you don't need to limit the sugars present naturally in fruits and vegetables. To maintain a healthy diet, it is best to consume whole foods whenever possible and save added sugars for the occasional special treat.
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