Science Thursday: Sugar

(Edit: There is updated scientific information on sugar in one of my newer posts.)

As you may or may not know, I originally started this blog to document the time I gave up refined sugar for lent. That path kind of fizzled out because there wasn’t really much to write about. Eating: I ate salad. A lot. Recipes: either they were already sugar-free or you substitute in raw sugar/honey. How it affected my body: I covered that in my first or second post. In short, it was a very monotonous topic, though I did learn a lot about sugar and what it does to the body. Since candy and sweets are a pretty big part of October and Halloween, I thought I’d give you the deets on the sweet stuff you’re eating this month, and  I’m using an itemized list, which is one of my favorite things.

Along with sweaters and scarfs and old books and soup and chocolate cake and puppies and tea…

1. Glucose, Dextrose, Grape Sugar

Oh yeah, we’re getting science-y up in here. Glucose is a naturally occurring sugar found in plant things, and is the product of photosynthesis (Quick! What’s the chemical formula for glucose??) Glucose is also what out body converts most of the carbs we eat into, and it’s found in animal blood (yum!). When glucose is added to food, it’s usually extracted from a starch. In fact, it’s a pretty popular practice to take glucose extracted from corn and convert some of the glucose in fructose, giving you….high fructose corn syrup!!

2. Fructose

Ohhhh you know that word, don’t you! And it’s a scary word, right? Wrong. Fructose is also a naturally occurring sugar found in fruit, roots, sugar cane and honey, and it’s considered the sweetest of the sugars (it always remembers your anniversary and buys pretty flowers). Because of Fructose’s sweetness, it’s the most common component added to food to change the flavor, and this is “bad”. Why you ask? Well, I suggest that you click on over to my first post on sugar and read why. It’s okay. I’ll wait.

If you decided to skip your reading assignment (-10 points!) here’s the summed up version: Most sugars added to food are refined, and refining is a process that removes the nutrients that naturally occur alongside the sugar to make it digestible (and those nutrients become molasses). Oopsie! Annnnd, almost everything you eat has sugar in it. Don’t believe me?

Also, fructose is absorbed in your large intestine, and this process leads to increased water in your intestine, which can lead to diarrhea! YUM!

3. Sucrose

Sucrose, otherwise known as table sugar or the stuff in your Halloween candy, is the molecular combination of fructose and glucose. Doesn’t that sound familiar? Kind of like…high fructose corn syrup?!? That’s because they’re the same thing!!

(Edit: while sucrose, fructose, and glucose are all made up of the same basic components, how those components are combined differs, which makes a difference in how your body processes them. Fructose and glucose are monosaccharides, meaning the consist of only one molecule, whereas sucrose is one fructose molecule bound to one glucose molecule, so to digest sucrose your body first must break it up into those two separate molecules. Because of this, sucrose takes longer to digest than the other simple sugars.)

Sucrose is also extracted from beets, and is sold as “beet sugar” to hipsters everywhere.

4. Maltose

Maltose is a pretty boring sugar to its scandalous brethren. It occurs in grains, and is formed in your body when you digest starch. That’s it.

5. Lactose

Here’s a trouble-maker for you. Lactose is formed by the molecular bonding of glucose with galactose. Lactose is broken down in the body by lactase, which children have but not all adults do, leading to lactose-intolerance. Lactase is added to dairy products to produce “Lactose free” products, and it’s sold in pill form to alleviate the symptoms of lactose intolerance. The amount of lactase absent in a person’s system varies, which is why some people are “more” lactose intolerant than others and need to pop a couple more lactaids.

6. Stevia

Stevia is a non-sugar sweetener from a plant 300 times sweeter than sucrose. One of the newest sugar-alternative fads, it sounds pretty good, until you go to the bathroom. That’s right, folks, stevia has a bit of a laxative effect. It says so right on the box. Other than that, stevia is considered to be pretty good for you, though none of the health claims (except for the pooping) have been conclusively proven in scientific study. So take that with a grain of sucrose (ha!).

7. Sweet’n Low, Splenda, and aspartame

I’m combining these they’re because they’re pretty basic in composition. Sweet’n Low is saccharin+dextrose+cream of tartar. Saccharin is a chemical similar to aspartame, and over time it creates a glucose intolerance in your body and messes that crap out of your gut (pun intended). There have also been studies that suggest saccharin triggers a release of insulin, leading to diabetes, but this hasn’t been fully proven either (I’m not likely to risk it).

Splenda is sugar derivative containing sucralose, which is indigestible by the human body. To process sucralose, your kidneys and lower intestine have to work harder, which over time really just isn’t good for you. Is cutting the calories really worth it?

Aspartame is a chemical sweetener most commonly found in diet sodas. While scientifically aspartame is “not all that bad for you,” it doesn’t release the same triggers in your body that sugar does, such as telling your body that you’ve actually consumed something. That’s why some say that diet soda leads to obesity, because if your body isn’t aware that it’s eating, it’ll eat (or drink) more.

8. Monk Fruit

Monk fruit is another non-sugar plant-based sweetener. That is about the extent of my knowledge. The fruit is native to China and Thailand, and the FDA labeled it as safe pretty quickly, which leads me to believe that it’s a lot better than other alternative sweeteners. It’s also 300 times sweeter than sucrose.

So what does this mean for your Halloween snacking? It means you don’t really need to worry about the sugar in your mini Hershey bars. You’re probably not going to eat 1000 of them (though if you did I would be kind of impressed), and the sugar content isn’t as horrible as some of the alternatives. Moderation is always best, but if you overindulge, don’t stress. Go ahead and have a sweet and happy Halloween.


2 thoughts on “Science Thursday: Sugar

  1. Pingback: Updated Thoughts on Sugar | Sweet yet Unrefined

  2. Pingback: Science Thursday: Fact-Checking and Sharing on Social Media | Sweet yet Unrefined

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