Sugar Biochemistry 101
Sugar goes under the microscope.
What we commonly think of as ‘sugar’ is the crystalised (refined) juice from sugarcane or sugar beets. There are many types of refined sugar. They all come from the same natural raw materials, but are processed for different purposes.
Table sugar (white or raw) is good for sweetening drinks because it dissolves in fluid. Castor sugar is more refined for use in sweet foods that have less fluid.
Icing sugar is highly refined for a smooth texture. Brown sugar is the same as white sugar but with molasses added to give it a caramel taste. These forms of common sugar are known as ‘added’ or ‘free’ sugar – meaning they do not occur naturally in wholefoods.
A sweet liquid can be extracted from cornstarch to create high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and artificial sweeteners are created in the laboratory.
These added/free sugars are commonly used in manufactured food and drink products to make them ultra delicious.
A smorgasbord of sugars
There are many different sugars in food and drinks that your body can use for energy, including lactose, maltose, galactose, sucrose, glucose and fructose. Some are ‘simple’ (monosaccharide) and some are ‘complex’ (disaccharide).
The chemical name for common sugar is Sucrose. Sucrose is a complex disaccharide molecule. Di means two. Sucrose contains two compounds called Glucose and Fructose.
When Sucrose goes into your mouth and stomach, it hydrolyses (i.e. water (H2O) is added), and the Glucose and Fructose compounds transform into simple sugars (monosaccharides).
Glucose and Fructose molecules travel independently through your gut and into your bloodstream where they are transported to the Liver.
Fructose stays in the Liver, while Glucose continues on to deliver energy to your brain and muscle cells.
Glucose plays an essential role in the human metabolism. It is the primary source of energy for your brain and body cells.
Your body uses the Glucose from your blood first. It is also stored for a short while as glycogen in your Liver and muscle cells. Both processes provide you with a steady flow of accessible energy. If you consume more Glucose than your body needs, the excess is put into long-term storage as body fat.
Fructose is the ‘glamour’ molecule. It makes food taste sweeter, but its nutritional value in the modern diet is negligible.
Our body struggles to process excess Fructose. Overconsumption can cause serious health issues such as fatty Liver and insulin resistance, which can lead to Liver disease and type 2 diabetes.
Fibre is your friend
Nature designed Sucrose to always be consumed with dietary fibre – the insoluble plant matter from fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains and nuts.
Soft drinks and artificially sweetened foods (factory or homemade) put a strain on your Liver and metabolic processes. Are those few moments of sweet sizzle really worth it?
Download the ‘The Adventures of Glucose and Fructose’ comic strip to help a child understand and teach others about how sugar is processed in their body.
Download the printable A4 flyer for this module.