Should I avoid all forms of sugar? This is a frequently asked question from many of my patients that are in treatment for obesity or eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia, bulimarexia, and binge eating disorder (BED). As with all things polluted, sugar has developed a bad reputation. In its natural form, it is one of the most important sources of energy that we have on the planet. It is the only carbohydrate that circulates in the blood stream and it serves as the primary energy source for the brain. In the plant world, it is formed through photosynthesis, and is vital to the propagation of each plant species, as its job is to nurture the plant’s seed. Sugar is found naturally in many foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and even in milk. These sources of sugar are not a problem. It is the added sugar in all of its polluted forms, which is contributing to so many of our health problems today. It is also the amount of added sugar in the U.S. diet that is literally killing us. This week, we’ll be posting a three-part series about sugar, the good, the bad, and the ugly!
The two main types of sugar that we must know about in order to be healthy are glucose and fructose.
Glucose is a monosaccharide (simple sugar) that plays a critical role in providing energy for humans. It is found in the sap of plants, and in the bloodstream of humans where it is referred to as “blood sugar”. Glucose is one of the analytics the doctor looks at when you have a physical. The normal concentration of glucose in the blood is about 0.1%, or between 70mg/dl to 120mg/dl. It can be too high, as in pre-diabetes or Type II diabetes, or it can be too low, as in Hypoglycemia. Because it is the primary source of energy for the brain, it influences psychological processes such as self-control, decision-making and mood. Thus, when glucose is low these processes are impaired. So it is vital to our physiological as well as psychological well-being.
Glucose may come from fruits or grains. The majority of glucose in grain is combined into long chains of molecules called either amylose or amylopectin. Both are starches. Not all starches are created equal in terms of how much they raise blood sugar levels. Those with fiber have a lower glycemic load than those without it. Legumes, for example, convert from amylose into glucose + fructose, whereas sticky rice and potatoes convert from amylopectin into glucose + glucose. The latter produces a higher blood sugar level.
Fructose, or fruit sugar, is a simple monosaccharide found in many plants. Like glucose, it is absorbed directly into the bloodstream during digestion. Pure, dry fructose is a very sweet, white, odorless, crystalline solid and is the most water-soluble of all the sugars, making it ideal as a sweetener. Fructose is found naturally in plant sources such as honey, tree and vine fruits, flowers, berries, and most root vegetables.
Dr. J. Renae Norton is a clinical psychologist, specializing in the outpatient treatment of obesity and eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, bulimarexia, and binge eating disorder (BED) and the Director of The Norton Center for Eating Disorders and Obesity in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is the Director of The Norton Center for Eating Disorders and Obesity in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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