Sugars Are in Everything We Eat
Most of us know sugar as what we put in our coffee or use in delicious baked goods.
Table sugar comes from sugar beet or sugar cane. These plants are juiced, the juice is then condensed to a syrup which is then evaporated and crystalized. The crystals come out brown in color and give the name to raw or brown sugar. They are brown because the crystals contain molasses. The white sugar we are familiar with is also called refined sugar, because it has undergone a refining process to remove the molasses.
While these sweet white crystals are what we typically think of when we hear the term sugar, it is only one of many types of sugars found naturally in our foods.
All sugars are carbohydrates and are our body’s main source of energy. We rely on carbohydrates to fuel our brains, muscles and nervous system. Carbohydrates are found naturally in fruits, grains, vegetables, and milk, and are found as an ingredient in much of our foods and beverages.
Simple or Complex
Carbohydrates can be classified into two groups: complex and simple.
Complex carbohydrates are made up of multiple simple carbohydrates that are joined together by chemical bonds. The longer the chains, the more complex the carbohydrate, and as a result the long it takes for the body to break down.
Simple carbohydrates are either monosaccharides – a one sugar molecule, or disaccharides – a two sugar molecule. Since they are much shorter chains of carbohydrates they are digested much faster.
Simple Carbohydrates: Monosaccharides
There are three main monosaccharides that combine to form the many different types of disaccharides found naturally in foods:
Glucose: this is the most important monosaccharide since it is the primary form that the body uses for energy. All other carbohydrates are converted into glucose during digestion so that it is readily available.
Fructose: as its name implies, fructose is known as fruit sugar and is the main monosaccharide found in fruits, berries, honey and other naturally occurring sweet plants.
Galactose: this is the monosaccharide that is found in milk.
Simple Carbohydrates: Disaccharides
When two monosaccharides join together they form a disaccharide. The following are the most common found in our diet:
Sucrose: also known as table sugar. As we know from above- it is primarily obtained from sugar cane or sugar beet but can also be found in varying amounts in a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
Sucrose = 1 glucose + 1 fructose
Lactose: This is the primary sugar found in milk and milk products.
Lactose = 1 glucose + 1 galactose
Maltose: can be found in germinating grains such as barley and is often called malt sugar.
Maltose = 1 glucose + 1 glucose
Complex Carbohydrates: Polysaccharides
Complex carbohydrates are also called polysaccharides and can contain chains of anywhere from 10 up to several thousand monosaccharides. The following are the more common types of complex carbohydrates found in our diets.
Starch: is the most common polysaccharide. It is made up of long chains of glucose. It can be found in cereal grains (wheat, rye, oats, barley, rice, etc.) potatoes and legumes.
Cellulose: is another long chain polysaccharide made from glucose. In our diets this is commonly referred to as fiber.
Pectin: is another type of fiber that gives fruit its structure. Pectin is found in varying amounts in fruits and vegetables. If you have every made jam or jelly you are familiar with how pectin is used as a gelling agent.
Gums: you may have seen these ingredients on your food labels: agar agar, guar gum, or xanthan gum. They are what is known as vegetable gums and primarily used as thickeners in foods.