All sugars and starches are made from the same chemical elements carbon (C), hydrogen (H), and oxygen (O)in the same proportions – C6H12O6.
But the carbohydrates are not all alike.
The simplest are the monosaccharides the most basic of all sugars, consisting of just one sugar molecule (C6H12O6).
Because they are simple does not mean they are in short supply. Any time you bite into something pleasantly sweet a ripe fruit or a young ear of corn you are probably partaking of one of nature’s simple monosaccharides.
Nature combines the monosaccharides in chains to form disaccharides (double sugar, composed of two simple sugar molecules attached to form a larger one C12H24O12) and polysaccharides (complex sugars and starches whose molecules consist of long chains of attached simple sugars).
The two simple sugars whose names you run across in any conversation about carbohydrates are fructose and glucose. The two are almost twins to each other chemically but a very slight structural difference between them causes fructose to be much sweeter than glucose.
Fructose occurs in countless combinations in the foods we eat. It is found in figs, cherries, bananas, and many other fruits which is why it is called fruit sugar. But the place you encounter it most, unfortunately, is in refined sugar. Ordinary table sugar, whether in cubes or packets or sacks, whether it’s white, yellow, or brown, is basically 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose bound together.
Glucose, on the other hand, is much less sweet than fructose. Glucose is also known as blood sugar because your body reduces all sugars to this form is found in most vegetables, including corn. When you read that “ com syrup” or “dextrose” is included in a packaged food, that means glucose and it also means there’s lots of it since glucose isn’t as sweet as table sugar.
Why Honey Seems Sweeter than Sugar and Other Mysteries
The reason you can use much less honey than table sugar is that it contains large amounts of naturally sweeter fructose. Here, in contrast to the way it occurs in other foods, fructose is found without its usual companion carbohydrate, glucose.3 Free-form glucose is a rarity in nature, although you do find fair amounts of glucose in everyone’s favorite late summer fruit: grapes.
These two simple sugars are called simple for another reason. They dissolve almost instantly and go directly to your bloodstream to be used for energy. Fruits and vegetables are a good source of simple sugar something to bear in mind when you crave a juicy fruit or crunchy vegetable. A few good, sweet choices: ripe grapes, berries, apples, plums, and oranges, plus young com and carrots.
Other Simple Sugars
Two less common simple sugars are glucose, a common sugar component in grain foods, and galactose a product of your body’s metabolism of milk sugar (lactose).
If you are a conscientious label reader, then words like maltose and lactose are familiar to you, because they appear on the labels of hundreds of processed foods. Maltose (made from the breakdown of starch in the malting of barley) is actually a combination of two glucose molecules, while lactose is made up of glucose and galactose. Each is a good example of the double sugar group, the disaccharides.
Maltose is most commonly found in baby formulas. It is easy to assimilate even by a developing digestive system since the digestive enzyme diastase breaks it into two molecules of glucose simple blood sugar.
If you drink your coffee or tea with milk but no sugar, you’re still consuming sugar! Milk contains natural sugar, the disaccharide called lactose. The digestive enzyme lactase separates it into glucose plus galactose. Then your liver uses galactose to produce glucose, blood sugar. Cow s milk is roughly 5 percent lactose, which is considerably less sweet than most other sugars in nature. This explains why milk doesn’t taste sugary. Breast milk, however, is roughly 3 percent sweeter than dairy milk. (Maybe switching to cow’s milk from the sweeter breast milk is the reason children tend to be so partial to chocolate milk, milkshakes, ice cream, and other sweetened-milk concoctions.) Lactase is the enzyme that decomposes lactose into its separate parts. Lactase deficiency is sometimes diagnosed when the trouble, in fact, is more complex and more serious medically. That is, sucrase and maltase may also be in low availability as well.
Your ethnic origins are related to your ability to digest milk. Statistics tell us that while only one-tenth of North American Caucasians are lactase deficient, the figures are considerably higher for other peoples Asians (90 percent), Israeli Jews (60 percent), Arabs (80 percent), and black Americans (70 percent).
Sucrose, or table sugar, is the most important and pervasive of the double sugars. Americans consume tons of it every year! It is hidden in thousands of products. Many people are addicted to it.
Sucrose is broken down in your intestines into glucose and fructose by the digestive enzyme sucrase.
Sucrose is generally derived from sugarcane or beets. In their natural state, these vegetables provide B vitamins and lots of fiber to slow the process of absorption and aid in the metabolism of sucrose. Refined, however, floods your body with immediate, large quantities of glucose and fructose. This can put quite a strain on your endocrine system as the body struggles to keep blood sugar levels normal. If your pancreas overshoots the mark and causes too great a drop in blood sugar, your energy level, thinking ability, and emotional stability can be affected. These are common symptoms of low blood sugar hypoglycemia. This blood sugar disorder can lead to diabetes another reason to reduce refined sugar consumption. Sucrose is found, not only in table sugar, but in brown sugar, raw sugar, sorghum, molasses, and maple sugar.
This carbohydrate class is found in many of our most-eaten and best-loved foods, such as bread, pasta, rice, cereals, and potatoes. The complex carbohydrates include both the oligosaccharides (a few sugars joined) and the polysaccharides (large multiples). Unlike simple and double sugars, polysaccharides are not sweet.
Polysaccharides supply your body with energy. They cannot be used for nutritional purposes by your body until converted by a multistep process into simple sugars, mostly glucose, blood sugar. This does not mean that a polysaccharide-rich yam is no better than a wand of pure sugar cotton candy. You derive no nutrients from the candy, but the yam supplies significant amounts of many nutrients in addition to natural sugar. The polysaccharides include starch; dextrins, which are actually components of starch that have been broken down; and glycogen, a starch that is made by your liver and muscles in order to store the energy of glucose.
Starches are among our most important sources of energy. A banana, a slice of whole wheat bread, or a bowl of oatmeal will help keep you going for hours.
The dextrins are a by-product of the breakdown of starch. They have the advantage of being more highly digestible than starch itself. Remember this: when you cut the crusts off your bread from the force of habit, you have just discarded the most digestible part of all, since, in baking, the outermost layer of starch in the bread dough was broken down into dextrin more than the rest.
Carbohydrates Increase Your Need for the B-Complex Vitamins
One good reason to bother eating whole grain bread and to take the extra twenty minutes to fix whole brown rice instead of the quick-cooking kind is that complex carbohydrates in their natural state contain all the B vitamins you need to properly digest and use as nourishment. B-vitamin enriched foods don’t provide this. As you may have noticed on labels, “enrichment” usually means that only a few not all of the B vitamins have been returned to the food.27 Balance this against the large number removed by extensive refining, and you can see that the food whether it is white rice, cornflakes, “enriched” flour, or a loaf of white or dyed-brown “whole wheat” bread made from mostly white flour is still a deficient, unbalanced food.
Without this vitamin complex in its entirety, it is more difficult for your body to digest carbohydrates, to turn them into fuel. How much B complex do you need to accomplish this? That depends on your own individual body chemistry. But you can easily safeguard yourself if you remember that the more sugars and starches in your diet, the more B vitamins you need. If you aren’t sure, a B-complex supplement might be in order. Better yet, stop eating refined sugars and starches.
The B1 deficiency disease is beriberi. This was originally observed in Asia, and it might not have been discovered as a deficiency disease if someone hadn’t noted the connection between the substitution of white rice for brown as a dietary staple and the sudden appearance of this “mystery” illness.