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Sugar is sugar is sugar...

Updated on February 3, 2012

An Overview of Carbs

Carbohydrates...the name says it all. They're organic compounds that always contain carbon, hydrogen, oxygen in the same ratio: 1 carbon atom to 2 hydrogen atoms to 1 oxygen atom. It doesn't matter what carb you're talking about, that combination is in the chemical formula somewhere.

There are four classes of carbohydrates to be aware of:

1. Monosaccharides (simple sugars)

2. Disaccharides

3. Oligosaccharides

4. Polysaccharides (starches and cellulose)

The differences between these classes are in the size of the molecule and complexity of the molecular structure...but for us foodies, it's taste.

Monosaccharides are what you're tasting when you eat fruit. Examples: glucose, fructose, galactose

Disaccharides don't always initially have a taste, but you taste at least a little sweetness pretty quickly after drinking milk or consuming anything with table sugar in it. Examples: sucrose, lactose

Oligosaccharides don't actually taste sweet, and neither do polysaccharides when you eat grains, breads, or vegetables. Examples of polysaccharide: amylopectin, glycogen

Notice a pattern here? And you know what? If you eat a spoonful of mashed potatoes or rice and take some time chewing on it, you will start to taste sweetness. This is a result of the starches being broken down by your chewing, salivary enzymes, and water in the saliva, into the simple sugars we love so much. Now let's focus on sugar. What is it made of?


Believe it or not, when you eat sugar (or sucrose), you are immediately tasting sweetness because the sucrose is so simple in chemical structure, that it only takes a water molecule and an enzyme in your saliva to break it down quickly into the simple sugars of glucose and fructose.


What's My Point?

So guess what high fructose corn syrup is made of? Pure simple sugars, in fact it is half fructose and half glucose. So is it any different than sugar? No. So is high fructose corn syrup any healthier as a food additive than sugar? No! Those commercials we have seen about high fructose corn syrup are correct: sugar is sugar. You're body can't tell the difference because there is no difference.

All carbohydrates get broken down to the simple sugars eventually. In fact my mother is a genius at cooking down any root vegetable into a sugary dessert or even an entree with a sweetness to it. I am talking carrot pudding and turnip mash with beef! The only exception, at least for us humans, is cellulose. It's such a complex polysaccharide (which makes up the cell wall of plants, aka our fruits and veggies!) that our bodies are not equipped to break that down. So what purpose does it serve? Fiber. And if you don't know what the purpose of that is, you MUST be constipated. It's the lack of flavor of these more complex carbohydrates that turn many of us off from consuming more of them, and also makes us unaware that we've already consumed our carbohydrates for the day. Let's say that while that baked potato you had for lunch is getting broken down ever so slowly, you want something sweet because you enjoy the taste and your body is craving simple sugars. Then your body focuses on the sugar you just ate. The starches from the potato get cast aside, and what happens to complex carbs that don't get broken down? They get fat...for later...if there is a later with your eating habits.

So it doesn't matter what kind of carbohydrate you eat/drink. What matters is how much! Start with eating more fruits and vegetables (come on, you knew it was coming!), which will provide the fiber, starches (if they're root vegetables especially), and simple sugars. Make sure to keep your starchy vegetable consumption to about half the portion (because a single potato has about as much sugar as a snickers bar) of your regular vegetables. I'll discuss the significance of protein later, but your protein source should also be about half the portion of your regular vegetables (ideally the size of a deck of cards). What should you wash it all down with? That's right, water. Now, am I saying no dessert? Not if you eat a balanced meal like I just described and give your body time to process it. Just make sure that it's not as big as your face.


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    • livelonger profile image

      Jason Menayan 6 years ago from San Francisco

      I also studied chemical engineering, and it annoys me when people who failed high school chemistry sing the praises of agave nectar and condemn HFCS...when they're pretty much the same thing. Thank you for debunking today's most commonly-held nutritional myths.

    • rjsadowski profile image

      rjsadowski 6 years ago

      Good hub. I am a chemical engineer and I get so tired of health nuts claiming that things are bad for you based on a little bit of knowledge and no real understanding of what they are saying.

    • catalystsnstars profile image

      catalystsnstars 6 years ago from Land of Nod

      Eeeeek, this hub brings me back to my chemistry days. Too scary. But interesting.