Fructose, Glucose, Galactose,
Sucrose, Lactose, Maltose
There are so many types of sugar out there, how are we supposed to know which one is better for us? What determines a natural sugar versus a chemically engineered sugar?
In order to answer your questions about sugar, we have to start from the beginning. Sugars are naturally occurring and come in the basic form of monosaccharides. There are three types of monosaccharides: glucose, fructose and galactose. Fructose is the naturally occurring sugar found in fruits, and glucose is the sugar our bodies use for energy.
Disaccharides are composed of two sugars such as
- Glucose + Fructose = Sucrose
- Glucose + Glucose = Maltose
- Glucose + Galactose = Lactose
You may start to recognize these names as well. Lactose is the naturally occurring sugar in milk, and sucrose is the naturally occurring sugar we know as “table sugar”.
So we know that monosaccharides like glucose, fructose and galactose are naturally occurring as well as sucrose, maltose, and lactose. But what about other sugars like high fructose corn syrup?
High Fructose Corn Syrup
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is ultimately the product of fragmented corn starch. The corn starch is broken down into smaller pieces that eventually becomes a combination of glucose + corn syrup. Scientists then take the glucose and convert nearly half of it into fructose, causing the corn syrup to be sweeter in taste.
Our bodies do not metabolize HFCS the same way as sucrose because it enters the glycolysis cycle of metabolism in a different pathway. Some view this as the leading factor for the rise in obesity rates in America. The more products that contain this modified sweetener, the more we consume.
Sugars contribute 4 calories per gram, which is roughly 120 calories per ounce. However, these sugars provide no nutritious calories for the body.
If it’s so bad for us, why do they continue to make it?
Corn grows in a healthy abundance in America, farmers are given subsidies and even encouraged to grow more than they can sell. This makes the corn market cheap with easy access to millions of pounds. Corn sweeteners such as HFCS is therefore cheap to make and use, cheaper than sucrose (table sugar from sugar cane or sugar beets). The more corn sweetener in a product, the cheaper the product is to buy. This makes the consumer more likely to buy it on a regular basis if the price is low. The vicious cycle continues and before we know it, we are consuming around 200-300 calories per day alone from HFCS.
The constant battle between what is safe and what is healthy in our consumer world hardly overlaps each other. What may be considered safe to consume, may not always be the healthiest option. Candy for example, may be safe to consume but that does not mean we should eat it everyday.
Benefits of artificial sweeteners
Most of the artificial sweeteners on the consumer shelf are non-caloric, meaning they provide the sweetness of sugar without the added calories. The FDA also considers these sweeteners generally safe for consumption. Non-caloric artificial sweeteners (NAS) are great for people with diabetes who must watch their sugar intake to keep their blood sugar under control. NAS are also great alternatives for certain populations who cannot have natural sugars or who must limit their sugar intake. This might sound like a win-win situation, experiencing the flavor without the consequence of weight gain or disease? Boo-ya, where do I sign up?
Contradictions of artificial sweeteners
There is some research out there to suggest that non-caloric artificial sweeteners (NAS) could disrupt the human microbiome that aids in our digestion. As the consumption of these NAS increases, the very ailments that we are trying to avoid might actually be induced. Ailments such as type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, increased appetite, increased absorption of sugar in the intestines, and weight gain can occur. Furthermore, NAS consumption can lead to glucose intolerance. Glucose is the monosaccharide our body produces from the break down of the food we eat, creating energy to move and think throughout the day. When the body produces a glucose intolerance, the main source of the body’s energy is gone and we cannot function.
WHY does this happen?
The body is amazing at adapting to what you give it. If the only sugar being consumed is in the form of artificial sweeteners, the body adjusts. When the body adjusts to this new form of sugar (not glucose) the entire pathway of glycolysis (break down of glucose for energy) cannot be used. Therefore, this may cause an intolerance when glucose is introduced into the body again via natural sugars like sucrose.
“What to Eat” by Marion Nestle
“Artificial Sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota” – J Suez, T Korem, D Zeevi, G Zilberman, CA Thaiss et al. 2014
“Non-caloric artificial sweeteners and the micro biome: findings and challenges” -J Suez, T Korem, G Zilberman, E Segal, E Elinav 2015
All photos used in this article were taken by Stephanie Rackley for and by The Healthy Chew
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