A variety of foods and beverages contain simple sugars. Some are naturally occurring, but many are created through refining and added to processed foods and beverages to enhance their taste, smell, texture, and color. Whatever their source, all sugars are treated the same way by the body’ they’re all broken down into glucose to provide energy. All sugars provide 4 calories per gram.
The two main categories of simple sugars in foods are monosaccharides and disaccharides.
Monosaccharides are simple carbohydrates that contain one single unit of sugar. The three common monosaccharides found in the diet are glucose, fructose, and galactose.
Glucose, also called dextrose, adds a mildly sweet taste to foods. In foods, it is often found paired with another monosaccharide to form a disaccharide or a double sugar unit; for example, glucose and galactose are linked together to form lactose, the main sugar found in milk and milk products.
In the body, glucose provides the brain, nervous system, and many body cells with their main source of energy.
Fructose, also known as fruit sugar or levulose, is the sweetest sugar. Fructose is found in fruits, some vegetables, table sugar, and honey. Fructose and glucose are also found in high-fructose corn syrup, a caloric sweetener used in a variety of commonly consumed foods and beverages.
Some people are unable to digest fructose because of fructose intolerance, a rare genetic diso4rder; many others can have fructose malabsorption and experience bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal symptoms.
Galactose, another monosaccharide, is rarely found in foods by itself but is attached to glucose to create lactose, the main sugar found in milk and milk products.
Disaccharides are made of two monosaccharides (single units of sugar) linked together. The disaccharides found in foods and beverages are sucrose, lactose, and maltose.
Sucrose, also known as table sugar, is made when glucose is paired with fructose. It is extracted from sugar beet or sugar cane plants and is purified and refined to create white table sugar. Molasses is also created from the sugar-refining process; brown sugar is white sugar turned brown through the addition of molasses. Sucrose is also added to a variety of foods and beverages, including soda; baked goods such as cookies, cakes, and pies; ready-to-eat cereals; dairy foods; canned fruit; and others.
Lactose, commonly known as milk sugar, is made up of glucose and galactose. It is naturally found in milk, cheese, and yogurt, and in foods and beverages made with them. Lactose is added as an ingredient to a variety of processed foods, beverages, and even medications.
People with lactose intolerance are unable to digest small amounts of lactose. This occurs because their bodies don’s make enough of the enzyme lactase, with lactose intolerance can experience cramps, nausea, bloating, gas, or other symptoms when they consume milk, cheese, yogurt, or any lactose-containing foods or beverages.
Maltose, also known as malt or malt sugar, is made of two glucose units joined together. It is created when starches, long chains of monosaccharides, are broken down in the body into two glucose units. Maltose is sound in some commercial cereals and baked goods and is fermented to make beer.
Unlike artificial sweeteners that have few or no calories, nutritive sweeteners contain calories. Simple sugars (monosaccharides and disaccharides) and sugar alcohols can come from natural or refined sources; high-fructose corn syrup, another nutritive sweetener, is commercially created and used in a variety of foods and beverages.
Naturally Occurring Sugars
Here are some examples of naturally occurring sugars in foods and beverages:
• Fructose (in fruit)
• Lactose (in milk and milk products)
• Fructose plus glucose (in honey)
• Sucrose (in real maple syrup)
As you can see, some foods and beverages that contain naturally occurring sugars also deliver many nutrients and other healthful substances. For example, fruit is a rich source of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals; milk and milk products, especially low-fat and nonfat varieties, provide calcium, vitamin D, and high-quality protein.
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