Simple carbohydrates are a type of carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are one of three essential nutrients, along with protein and healthy fats.
We find simple carbohydrates naturally in fruit and milk, or they can produce commercially and added to foods to sweeten, prevent spoilage, or improve structure.
This article covers the different simple carbohydrates, how to identify them on food labels, and how they may affect your health.
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What are the simple carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are molecules that contain single, double, or multiple sugars called polysaccharides. It provides four calories per gram and is an excellent source of energy for your body.
There are two main types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. The difference between them lies in the number of sugar molecules they contain.
Simple carbohydrates, also known as simple sugars, contain one or two sugar molecules, while complex carbohydrates contain three or more. A simple sugar may be a monosaccharide or a disaccharide.
Monosaccharides are the simplest type of carbohydrate, as your body cannot break them down more; this allows your body to absorb them quickly and easily, except for fructose.
There are three types of monosaccharides:
Glucose: Fruits and vegetables are natural sources of glucose. We also find it common in juices, candy, honey, sports drinks, and desserts.
Fructose: Fruit is the primary natural food source of fructose, so it commonly refers fructose to as fructose.
Galactose: The primary dietary source of galactose is lactose, a sugar found in milk and dairy products, such as cheese, butter, and yogurt.
Disaccharides made of two sugar molecules or two monosaccharides linked.
Your body must break down the monosaccharides before they can absorb. There are three types of polysaccharides:
Sucrose (glucose + fructose): Sucrose, often called table sugar, is a natural sweetener derived from sugar cane or beets. It is added to foods during processing and is found naturally in fruits and vegetables.
Lactose (glucose + galactose): Also known as milk sugar, we find lactose in milk and dairy products.
Maltose (glucose + glucose): We find Maltose in malt beverages, such as beer and malt liquor.
Too many added sugars can be harmful to your health
For many people, the word “sugar” has a negative connotation. Many nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits and vegetables, naturally contain sugar and should not be avoided as it benefits your health.
Added sugars, such as sugary drinks, candy, and desserts, can contribute to many health problems.
Added sugars have higher levels of obesity, heart disease, and an increased risk of cancer.
Associated with obesity:
Obesity affects approximately 40% of adults. We associate sugar with severe health risks, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
Obesity treatment is costly. Compared to people of a healthy weight, obese people spend thousands of dollars each year on health care.
The cause of obesity is highly controversial and multi-factor in nature, but excessive intake of added sugars believed to play a significant role. Added sugars increase the calories in your diet, which can lead to weight gain.
The sweet flavor might make it easier to overindulge in added sugar than other nutrients, which increases the risk of weight gain.
Dangerous diseases will make you stop eating sugar.
Increases heart disease:
Heart disease is the leading cause of death globally and has been for the past several decades. It is often cause by atherosclerosis, a condition in which plaque builds up on the blood vessels’ inner walls that lead to your heart, causing them to narrow and stiffen; this reduces blood flow, which may lead to a heart attack.
Several studies have shown that getting many calories from added sugar can lead to an elevated level of triglycerides, a known risk factor for heart disease.
One study found that people who got 10 to 25% of their calories from added sugars were 30% more likely to die of heart disease than those who got less than 10% of their calories from added sugar.
Plus, this risk nearly doubled for those who got over 25% of their calories from added sugar.
It increases the risk of developing cancer:
Extra calories from added sugars can increase inflammation and oxidative stress. Some infections and oxidative stress are essential to good health, but excessive intake can lead to many diseases and conditions, including cancer.
Several studies have reported elevated inflammation markers, for example, C-reactive protein and uric acid, with added sugars intake.
They also thought that added sugars increase cancer risk by raising certain hormones, but these effects are not yet well understood.
How to identify added sugars on food labels?
You can find added sugars in different foods, even those you might not think of as sweet, such as ketchup, bread, and canned beans.
However, the primary sources of added sugars are sugar-sweetened beverages, candy, sweets, ice cream, and sugary cereals. Look at the Nutrition Facts panel for a food product to see how many grams of added sugar it contains.
Historically, food labels didn’t differentiate between a natural sugar or added sugar; this made it difficult to determine how much added sugar you consumed.
By 2020, however, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has mandated manufacturers to list added sugars in grams and as a percentage of the daily value on food labels.
Several large food companies have already complied, making it easier to assess the added sugar content in products. Health organizations recommend that men and women get less than 25 grams and 38 grams of added sugar daily from their diet, respectively.
Getting more than these amounts makes it challenging to meet your nutritional needs while staying within your daily calorie limit. Reading the list of ingredients in foods can help you identify added sugars.
The names of added sugars include:
- Anhydrous dextrose.
- Brown sugar.
- Powdered sugar candy.
- Corn syrup.
- High fructose corn syrup (HCFS).
- Maple syrup.
- Agave nectar.
- Raw sugar.
Labels list ingredients in descending order by weight, with ingredients used the most first, followed by ingredients in smaller quantities; this means if a product lists sugar as the first ingredient, then you know it contains more sugar than anything else.
Why shouldn’t you be afraid of simple carbohydrates?
Sugar can be harmful to your health when consumed in large quantities. However, sugar is only one component of your diet. It would be naïve to make it solely responsible for obesity, disease, and other conditions in other foods.
Research shows that sugar only becomes a problem for your health when it includes too much of your diet or if you get more calories than you need from sugar.
Limiting added sugars from sugar-sweetened drinks and desserts are essential to good health, but not eating a piece of cake or serving your favorite ice cream is not the right approach. It is not sustainable, enjoyable, or beneficial to your health.
Besides, we find naturally simple carbohydrates in various healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. These foods bring various other vital nutrients to your diets, such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber.
Simple carbohydrates are carbohydrates with sugar (monosaccharide) or two (disaccharide) molecules.
Many healthy foods like fruits and vegetables naturally contain sugar and should not be avoided as it benefits your health. However, excess added sugar is linking to obesity, and an increased risk of heart disease and cancer.
You can find out how much sugar adds to a product by looking at the Nutrition Facts panel or reading the ingredient list. Despite the harmful effects added sugars can have on your health, you can eat them in moderation and as part of an overall healthy diet.
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