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Sugar Health 101: The Differences Between Fructose, Glucose, & Sucrose

7 minute read


Sucrose, glucose, and fructose are all different types of sugar. They are similar in the fact that they contain the same amount of calories and can occur naturally in fruits and other foods. However, they are all different in their chemical structures and in the way that your body can digest and process them.

Knowing the difference between these three sugars can be a valuable resource when you’re trying to maintain a healthy, nutritious diet. While they are all sugar, they can have very different effects on your overall health.

Sucrose

Commonly known as table sugar, sucrose is actually a combination of both glucose and fructose. Commonly extracted from sugar cane, sucrose is the type of sugar that is in most processed sweets, and it is most often the sugar you put in your coffee.

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This unfortunately is a highly processed type of sugar, and it is not particularly healthy for your body. It’s a good idea to keep your consumption of sucrose to a minimum whenever possible.

Glucose

Glucose would perhaps be most likely to be considered a “good” sugar out of the three. It is used by your body as a source of energy, and it is present in carbohydrates. Still, it can be added to processed foods in a form known as “dextrose,” which is less ideal than the natural form of glucose, so keep this ingredient in mind when you’re looking for food items at the store.

Fructose

Fructose is the sweetest of the three sugars, but it’s the least likely to impact your blood sugar, at least in its raw form. Naturally, fructose can occur in honey and other sweet nectars, but its processed form is found in high-fructose corn syrup, which is one of the most notorious contributors to obesity and other negative health effects in America.

How Your Body Reacts to Each Sugar

Now that we’ve reviewed some of the basic differences between these three sugars, how does your body break each one of them down? The fact is, these sugars are very different on a molecular level, and that can impact the ways that they are used by your body.

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To help you understand the ways in which these different sugars are processed by your digestion, let’s review each one and the methods by which they are broken down in the body.

Digesting Sucrose

Because sucrose is made of both glucose and fructose, your body must first separate the two before it can begin to digest and use sucrose. Due to this, sucrose may last longer in the body than the other two sugars, so eating it could be even worse than eating the two separately.

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Your body takes a long time to digest sucrose, and because it can affect your levels of both glucose and fructose, it can often cause a sugar overload if eaten with high levels of either of the other sugars. Because of this, it’s a good idea to limit your sucrose consumption when you can.

Digesting Glucose

Glucose affects your blood sugar more than the other sugars, but that doesn’t make it necessarily bad for your health. The reason glucose affects your blood sugar so much is because it can be absorbed directly by the lining of your small intestine and into your bloodstream, where glucose is absorbed by your body’s cells.

This sugar is then either used to create energy, or stored for future use.

Digesting Fructose

Similar to glucose, fructose is absorbed by the lining in your small intestine. But since fructose is a more complex sugar than glucose, your body takes more time to digest it.

In fact, your body must first convert fructose into glucose before it can be used. Because of this, fructose does not affect your blood sugar levels as immediately as glucose.

However, even though it doesn’t have as strong of an immediate effect on your blood sugar, studies show that fructose could have the most damaging long-term effects. It’s a good idea to keep your consumption of fructose at a reasonable level.

If you overload on fructose, your body turns it into cholesterol, which could have serious negative health effects. Too much cholesterol can be detrimental to your heart health, your weight, and other serious areas of your health.

Insulin, Diabetes, and the Metabolic Syndrome

The reason for the glut of negative press concerning fructose is primarily related to weight gain and how your body metabolizes it. While glucose can be immediately carried by insulin and converted to energy, fructose must first be processed by the liver.

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Consuming a lot of fructose means that extra strain is placed on the liver, not to mention extra fat. Sugar intakes tends to lead to more sugar intake, unfortunately, so it’s important to avoid this spiral.

Too much fructose can also increase insulin resistance, meaning your insulin levels become too high. This can throw off everything in the body, leading to inflammation, and even the onset of the metabolic syndrome and diabetes.

The Bottom Line

One of the key takeaways from all this knowledge is that you should limit the amount of sugar you add to meals or snacks. Overall, sugar isn’t necessarily bad for you, as long as you stick to its natural form and you don’t consume too much of it.

Unfortunately, sugar is an extremely most harmful substances when you eat too much of it. Avoiding foods that are high in sugar helps, but keep in mind that many frozen and low-fat foods have fructose added for flavoring.

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