How well do you know your sugar molecules? Glucose is a much loved friend. Sucrose has a split personality. Fructose can’t lose weight, and her daughter, Fructan, goes out with Inulin, who is two-faced and can’t be trusted.
Given that sugar molecules are found in pratically everything we eat, understanding which are beneficial and which are best to avoid is invaluable for when we want to make healthy dietary choices. After researching the FODMAPs, I found I was confused about Fructose and Fructans, so I’ve put together this post for clarification.
Sucrose, Glucose and Fructose
Sucrose, Glucose and Fructose are all carbohydrates and simple sugars, but the body responds quite differently to each of them. Simple sugars are either mono or di. Monosaccharides contain only one sugar unit. Glucose and Fructose are monosaccharides. When the monosaccharides join together, a disaccharide is formed. Sucrose is a disaccharide.
Glucose is the body’s preferred energy source. Also known as blood sugar, glucose circulates in the blood. When we consume carbohydrates in whatever form, they are broken down into glucose and are either utilized immedietely for energy, or are stored in the muscles or the liver as glycogen. Blood sugar levels need to be kept at a constant level, and for this reason glucose consumption is directly related to insulin production. When glucose levels in the blood are high, insulin is produced. Insulin tells the relevant cells to pull the excess sugar out of the bloodstream. For more on insulin, read here.
Even though fructose is found naturally in many fruits and vegetables, it’s not the body’s first choice when it comes to energy. Fructose is only metabolized in the liver, and is much more fat producing – or lipogenic – than glucose. It stimulates neither insulin – the blood sugar regulator, nor leptin – the energy regulator. Read about Leptin here. Fructose is therefore dangerous: even though fructose is sweet and seductive, the body receives no messages about when to stop consuming, or when blood sugar levels need rebalancing. Which means it’s too easy to keep eating and drinking, even though we’ve moved beyond blood sugar and biological equibilbrium. Fructose, in the form of High Fructose Corn Syryp, is a key ingredient in flavoured and fizzy drinks, and is found throughout the full range of processed foods on the market. The global rise in hypertension, cardiorenal disease, obesity and diabetes is directly concurrent with the rise of fructose consumption.
(Don’t confuse fruit with fructose. Any piece of fruit is much, much more than pure fructose. It’s a synergistic combination and rich source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidents, phytonutrients. The problem with fructose is that 1) the manufacturing process has blown it out of it’s natural context, rendering it empty of nutrients, and 2) it naturally leads to over-consumption.)
Sucrose is common table sugar and is derived from sugar cane or sugar beets. Fruits and vegetables also naturally contain some sucrose. When consumed, sucrose, being a disaccharide, is broken down into it’s individual units of glucose and fructose. The glucose molecules trigger the insulin response. They are used immedietely by the body as it’s preferred energy source, or are stored as glycogen for later use. The insulin also causes the excess energy from the fructose to turn into fat.
Fructans are a subset of fructose molecules and are found in various foods, including agave, artichokes, asparagus, leeks, garlic, onion, spring onions, barley, rye, and wheat. They are the storehouse for polysaccharides, which provide the plant with it’s energy.
They are built of fructose residues, normally with a sucrose unit. Depending on where they are linked, the most common fructans are clasified as either Inulin or Levan, though there are also more complex structures. It’s the Inulin’s which we want to know about.
Inulins are dietary fibres and carbohydrates found in many plants. As well as being the plant’s energy storehouse, Inulins provide the plant with resistance against cold. Inulins are found in chicory, wheat, barely, rye, banana and plantain, garlic, onion, asparagus, and Jerusalem artichoke.
Inulins are ambiguous, and whether they are friend or foe depends on how well your gut bacteria are balanced. On the one hand, they are associated with numerous health benefits including increased calcium absorbtion, the promotion of beneficial intestinal bacteria, and they’re a form of soluble fibre. They have little impact on blood sugar levels, and are thus suitable for diabetics. On the other hand, as a FODMAP, they are poorly absorbed in the small intestine and are quick to ferment in the colon, causing gas, cramps, bloating, and the malabsorbtion of water. These consequences are particularly problematic for people with IBS and SIBO.
Monosaccharides, Disaccharides, Glucose, Sucrose and Fructose, with their Fructans and Inulin. This doesn’t complete the sugar molecule list – as we know from the FODMAPs, there are also the oligosaccharides and polyols – and there are more that don’t make the Hit List. For our daily eating habits, and long term health, this is the take-home: Glucose is the body’s preferred energy source, and is found in Real Food. Sucrose, in it’s unrefined state, such as Musocavado Sugar, is okay consumed every now and again, as a treat, but certainly not with every meal, or even every day. Fructose is ok when found in Real Food, but should be avoided in all it’s refined forms. Fructans could be creating uncomfortable and antisocial digestive issues, if your gut bacteria isn’t balanced.
If you want to regulate your sugar consumption – and in doing so regulate your blood sugar levels, your hormones, and your overall health, my advice is this: Re-educate your tastebuds. Decrease the quantities of the sweeteners you use, to the point of sometimes not needing to use them at all. Decrease the occasions on which you reach for sugar. Do a Whole 30, especially if you’ve never done one before. And keep reading, keep researching, because knowledge is power, and every bit of dietary wisdom will take you far on your journey towards radiant health and (r)evolutionary healing.
Writing this post has certainly clarified the Sugar situation for me – I hope you also find it informative and useful. I love receiving your comments – thankyou! And it’s very much appreciated when you take the time to share Paleomantic posts on your Social. Please come find me on Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest and Instagram where I post what I’m eating, and where Roxy and I are walking.
Best Wishes, Good Health!