Simple sugars as the name suggest are the simplest form of carbohydrates that acts as the primary source of energy for the human body. This also indicates that the metabolism is fast and does not require a lot of enzymes, hormones or neurotransmitters. Generally it is not considered an ideal source of nutrition for the same reasons and other sources like complex carbohydrates are considered more superior sugars.
Examples of Simple Sugars
Glucose is the basic building block and functional unit of sugars. Human body has a remarkable capacity to convert all complex carbohydrates and other simple carbohydrates into glucose with the action of enzymes. Human body can also convert amino-acids and lipids into glucose that can be used as the cellular fuel to generate energy.
Fructose and galactose are naturally occurring forms of monosaccharides that are mainly used to supply energy by glycolysis pathways. Fructose (naturally occurs in all the fruits/ vegetables) is also found abundantly in a number of synthetic and natural compounds like honey (100% fructose) and corn syrup (50% fructose).
Galactose is the traditional milk sugar that is also found in abundance in beans and peas. Galactose is utilized by the human body with the help of synthetic pathways that require the enzyme galactase. The inherited deficiency of this enzyme (galactosemia) may lead to destructive and degenerative changes in the live, lens and other vital structures.
Most other sugars that are discussed in above text are hexose sugars. Human body is also capable of synthesizing ribose sugars and deoxyribose sugars that are used for the synthesis of DNA that are pentose sugars. In addition, during metabolism of other mono and disaccharides, a number of other 3- carbon, 4- carbon sugars are produced.
Disaccharides are found abundantly in naturally occurring foods like sugar-cane and beet. Common examples are:
- Lactose – sugar of milk and other dairy products
- Sucrose – table sugar
- Maltose – found in wheat and barley
Functions of Simple Sugars
Simple sugars are the primary fuels of the body that are assimilated and utilized by every cell of the body and supply energy for all metabolic activities of the body.
In order to support the metabolic needs of major organs like brain and heart that are in continuous state of activity, we need a steady supply of glucose that is supported by storage organs like liver. The extra sugar from diet that is not utilized by the body is stored in the form of glycogen in liver and muscles to pump steady glucose in the system when needed.
If sugar is consumed in excess, metabolic machinery of cells convert it into fat building blocks (like triglyceride). These are released in the system for utilization by cells when needed.
Foods with Simple Sugars
Sweets or candies are readymade sources of energy that are packed with a lot of simple sugars. Too much candy consumption is definitely bad for oral and overall health.
Fruits are also loaded with simple sugars. That’s why people feel so energetic and active after consuming glucose rich foods.
Soda and aerated beverages are considered very bad for health. It has been estimated that one soda can contain almost 15 tea-spoons of sugar along with a lot of phosphorous that extracts calcium from your bones.
Dairy products are healthy if you make good choices like yogurt and cheese that supply vitamin D, calcium and other essential vitamins; however, too much milk and unhealthy dairy products like ice-cream are not good for health.
All bakery items like pastries, cookies, biscuits, cakes and other forms of sugar studded are not only bad for your weight but are also bad for your skin, digestive system and metabolism.
Precautions of Simple Sugars Intake
According to the recommendations of The American Heart Association, the total calorie intake by simple sugars must not exceed 100 to 150 calories (= almost 6 to 9 tea-spoons of simple sugars). Despite the fact that 50 to 65% of the recommended daily diet must comprise of carbohydrates, the percentage of simple sugars must be fairly low to prevent long term complications.
Consequences of Excessive Intake
- Weight gain or obesity is one of the notable consequences of excessive sugar intake.
- Simple sugars release immense amounts of glucose in the blood stream often almost immediately after the consumption making you feel hungry all over again. People who consume more simple sugars tend to eat more and get little nourishment of it.
- Due to insulin response, the risk of developing insulin resistance and resulting diabetes mellitus type 2 increases tremendously.
How to Limit Intake:
- Replace your processed or refined foods with unprocessed and healthy organic foods.
- Speak to your dietitian to know for sure how much simple sugar is good for you considering your overall metabolism and rate of physical activity.
- Limit your intake of sugary beverages, soda and aerated drinks, bakery items and similar high sugar foods.