Simple and complex sugars: what's the difference

Simple and complex sugars: what's the difference

The importance of carbohydrates

I carbohydrates are compounds of vegetable origin and represent the primary source of energy for our body: from these the body in fact derives the energy it needs to make its organs work but also to carry out daily activities.


Some components of our body, such as the central nervous system and red blood cells, they work only and exclusively by drawing energy from carbohydrates. 


Even, our brain needs about 100g of glucose per day to function, a bit like a car needs gasoline: the body cannot ignore carbohydrates just as the car cannot function if there is no gasoline, nor could another source such as water be substituted for gasoline. . 


But is one sugar worth the other? Certainly they are not all the same, otherwise we would not have reference subdivisions.  


Types of carbohydrates and the difference

The carbohydrate family is very large. We can imagine them as a single building, consisting of 3 different apartments: an apartment with a more complex architecture, with several floors and more rooms (complex carbohydrates, so called for their biochemical structure which is considerably more elaborate than other carbohydrates); a simpler apartment, with minimalist architecture (simple carbohydrates, so called because biochemically less complex in structure); a greener apartment (the fibers, which are very special carbohydrates).


Complex carbohydrates are those containing starch, that is all derivatives of cereals (bread, pasta, pizza) and tubers such as potatoes or cassava. 


Cookies and baked goods contain a mix of complex carbohydrates (starch) with the addition of simple sugars.  Simple sugars are those formed by disaccharides (cooking sugar, fruit, vegetables, milk) and industrial products such as glucose or fructose syrup. Nutritional recommendations recommend do not exceed the caloric share of 5-10% from these sugars


In biochemistry and organically there is no difference between cooking sugar and that contained in an apple. The most common simple sugars are found in sucrose, honey, candy, ice cream, yogurt, but also fruit (dates, grapes in large quantities) and even in milk (with lactose).


The food industry uses it glucose-fructose syrup and simple sugar to flavor foods, we find it in breakfast cereals, canned drinks, tomato puree and in small quantities also in many other foods such as smoked salmon and hams. 


These sugars, in contrast to complex carbohydrates, are absorbed faster (i.e. they pass faster from the intestine to the blood), causing blood sugar spikes also quite important, that is, very fast increases in blood sugar, precisely by virtue of the fact that they pass very quickly from the intestine to the bloodstream. 


Furthermore, their satiating effect is very low: we digest them very quickly and in about 30 minutes from their ingestion the satiating effect vanishes. This is one of the reasons why, when we drink a juice, we don't reach the same satiety that we reach instead with a good plate of pasta! 


It should also be noted that this type of carbohydrates should be consumed through fruit, not as sucrose, because, as mentioned, fruit, together with sugars, it also provides vitamins, minerals and fibers and above all the latter have the power to limit the potential harmful effects of sugar and, at the same time, compensate for the low satiating effect of simple sugars. 


Despite this, simple sugars are not bad, but it is the sum of everything we eat during the day that determines metabolic changes in a negative (or positive) sense. 


It happens very often that patients worry enormously about the calories supplied by sugar, believing that it contains the highest number of calories; in reality this is not the case at all, since a teaspoon of sugar brings about 15 modest calories


Let's remember: when, at the end of a stratospheric lunch, you ask for the zero-calorie sweetener to sweeten the coffee, know that it is not the sugar that improves the daily caloric intake, it is everything else! The reason why we should reducing the use of sugar is not related to calories, but is purely healthy


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