the sugar diaries ~ the one where my brain exploded

Alright, so here’s what I knew about sugar as of a week ago.

Horses like it in cube form.

After some research, some glazed eyes, some self-administered . . .

and a bit more research, I’m sharing what I’ve discovered.

First, please endure my humble attempt to translate science into everyday language.

sugar isSugar is the generalised (lay persons) name for a substance with a certain chemical structure that all taste sweet.

carbohydrates areA carbohydrate is a fancy name for a substance made up of the elements carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Scientists also call them saccharides (they mean the same thing.)

Sugar is a type of carbohydrate in fact.

Small carbohydrates are commonly referred to as simple sugars. Larger carbohydrates are commonly referred to as complex carbohydrates.

You can get monosaccharides (from Greek words mono = single, sacchar = sugar) such as glucose (also known as dextrose or ‘grape sugar’ which is found in plants), fructose (also known as levulose or ‘fruit sugar’ is also found in plants and plant by-products such as honey, tree and vine fruits, flowers, berries, and root vegetables) and galactose (which is mostly found in milk and milk products).

You can get disaccharides (when two monosaccharides make friends) such as sucrose (the table sugar you see every day when you get your coffee (which = glucose + fructose), lactose (which = galactose + glucose and is found in milk), and maltose (which = glucose + glucose).

You can also get polysaccharides (from Greek words poly = many) such as cellulose and starch (which = lots of glucoses put together).

It helps to think of it in a mathematical way, with the simple sugars (mono’s) being the basis for your additions and subtracting.

Here’s something positively ground breaking that I discovered though, starch (remember this is a glucose + glucose + glucose type of unit) is everywhere. It’s the most common carbohydrate in the human diet. Have you picked yourself up from the floor yet?

Rice and wheat are starches. Root vegetables are starches. Bananas, oats, barley, rye, some beans are starches. The staples like bread, noodles, pasta, porridge are largely starches. Check out this pasta I’m having for lunch.

IMG_0956[1]Its 97% durum wheat right. Durum wheat is 71% carbohydrate*. That’s a 71% sugar food right there.

Starch can be extracted from plants, washed and dried (ie. refined) and turned into things such as cornstarch, tapioca, wheat and potato starch. And, starches can be turned into simpler sugars quite easily. They are a very common sweetener in many foods and drinks. They are used as bland fillers and thickeners. They are commonly used in their syrup form in may processed foods. There are also tonnes of modified starches which are altered to cope with the rigours of processing like storage, high heat, freezing, thawing etc.

I could go on and on and on. But here it is in a nutshell. Starch is in everything. Starch is a sugar. Sugar, in any of it’s forms, is in everything we consume. Everything.

Which means that most of life is we know it is sugar based.

So what is the big deal?

Should I be freaking out right now (as was my initial reflex as I daydreamed about being swallowed whole in a mountain of quick-sand like sugar crystals) or should be calm in the knowledge that my body was built to cope with this sugar. It’s natural and normal and part of the biology of life. And with all this new knowledge, what is Sarah Wilson and David Gillespie going on about and how do they fit in with what Dietitians say and the Dietary Guidelines we are meant to follow.

I don’t know yet. But I’m going find out and let you know as I go.

For now though, notice the labels on your food. How much carbohydrate is there and how much sugar has been singled out?

Did you know that (in Australia at least) the carbohydrate on the label relates to all carbs in the product. Whereas, the sugars singled out on the label relate only to the simple sugars – glucose and fructose (ie. fruit sugar) – as well as any sugar the producer has manually added.

Why do they single out natural sugars from all others? Well, I spoke to the Food Standards Australia New Zealand consumer help line and they couldn’t answer that question other than to say ‘because that’s what the legislation says to do’.

Something to ponder until my next post at least.

i am

Head. Exploding. Brains everywhere.

Man! This is way more complicated than I thought. I stupidly thought carbs and sugars and starches were all totally different substances. Well that myth is busted.

* http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/6306?qlookup=20076&max=25&man=&lfacet=&new=1

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