Sugar, like fat, gets a lot of bad press, some deserved, some not.
Babies are born with a sweet tooth. Human milk is quite sweet, so a child begins life making the connection between eating, drinking, and pleasure. I know a lot of adults who also have this connection!
Sugars are one form of carbohydrates and carbohydrates are good for you, as long as you eat the right kinds in the right amounts. Carbohydrates are your body’s main source of energy. You couldn’t live or work without them. Your body needs a lot of carbohydrates – around 60 to 70 percent of your total calories should be in the form of carbs. But before you reach for the carbs in a big ol’ chocolate bar, take some time to learn about sugar and other kinds of carbs.
Over-processed, factory-made sugars and starches have given carbohydrates a bad reputation. Once you understand which carbs are best for your body, including which sugars are good for you, you can indulge a sweet tooth and still enjoy sweet health.
TOP NINE COMPLEX CARBS
legumes: beans, peas, chick peas, lentils
oatmeal (without added sugar)
whole grains: whole wheat, brown rice
Sugar science…now stay with me here
Carbohydrates appear in many forms in many foods, and there are also many different kinds of sugar besides the familiar white grains in the sugar bowl. Following are some carbohydrate terms you should know.
Carbohydrates are a group of nutrients that contain carbon atoms that have been hydrated by adding water molecules. Carbohydrates are actually built of sugar molecules, called saccharides. They’re arranged like beads on a necklace. Carbohydrates include sugars, starches, and fiber. Both sugars and starches are broken down by the body into the simple sugar, glucose. Glucose molecules then circulate in the bloodstream, supplying cells with fuel on an as-needed basis. Extra glucose is converted into glycogen, which is stored in muscles and the liver. If the body is already storing enough glycogen, glucose gets changed into fat. Your body prefers to burn glucose or glycogen for energy, but when these reserves are depleted it draws on fat, the reserve fuel. Carbohydrates are an important part of the diet, since your body needs energy to grow, to work, and to repair itself.
Simple carbohydrates are those that contain only one or two saccharides. These include sucrose, which is table sugar (made of one molecule of glucose and one of fructose) and lactose, the sugar found in milk (made up of glucose and galactose). Simple carbohydrates end in the suffix ose, a tip-off that the substance is a sugar. A simple carb that contains one sugar is known as a monosaccharide (saccharide is another name for sugar). Monosaccharides include glucose and fructose, the sugar in fruits. If the carbohydrate contains two sugar units, it is known as a disaccharide. In general, the simpler the sugar, the more sweet it is. Fructose, the sugar found in fruit and honey, is the sweetest.
Complex carbohydrates are known as polysaccharides. They are made of long, complicated strings of simple sugars, and there are many different kinds. As a general rule, complex carbohydrates – what grandmother called “starches” – are the ones that are the most nutritious, since they are usually part of foods that contain a variety of other nutrients and not a lot of fat. Starches, like simple sugars, are broken down into glucose fuel by the body, but it takes longer to digest most starches, so they don’t cause blood sugar fluctuations the way simple sugars do. Fiber is also a complex carbohydrate, but human intestines do not contain the enzymes necessary to break down the fiber’s long carbohydrate necklace into individual sugar molecules so that it can be absorbed in the bloodstream. Carbohydrates don’t count as calories in the diet unless they are burned for energy, so fiber is really a calorie-free food. Fiber in a food slows the digestion of other carbohydrates, especially soluble fibers (citrus fruits, oats, and legumes). The extra fiber in whole grains also slows the digestion and absorption of sugar, which explains why whole grains in cereal are digested more slowly than high-carb pasta.
Carbohydrates differ in their degree of sweetness, and complex carbohydrates, such as starches, while being the least sweet, are the best for your body. Carbs ranked from most sweet to least sweet are:
fructose sugar (fruits, fruit concentrate)
table sugar (sucrose)
complex carbohydrates (starches)
Complex carbs taste less sweet because, being a larger molecule, they don’t fit as easily into the sweet receptors of the taste buds as do the more simple sugars.