What are the characteristics of sugar? Why is sugar important? What are the types, Nutritional value, sugar rich foods and examples of sugar.
What are sugars?
When we talk about sugars or carbohydrates, from a biochemical perspective, we refer to a certain type of primordial organic macromolecules, which are characterized by their sweet taste.
- Its molecule is composed mainly of carbon (C), oxygen (O), and hydrogen (H) atoms, making them one of the simplest types of carbohydrates.
- It is common to refer to sugars as carbohydrates, as if they were all the same. But it is not technically very exact. It is effectively carbohydrates, but not all carbohydrates are sugars.
- Although we usually call the food we use to sweeten sugar, it is actually sucrose, which is just one of a variety of substances that we consider sugars.
- They are also called carbohydrates. This name comes from the Greek glykys (“sweet”), from which “glucose” also comes, probably the most common carbohydrate of all.
- The typical formula for a sugar molecule can be expressed as (CH2O) n, where n can have a value of 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, or 8.
Definition of sugars
Sugars can be defined as a type of carbohydrate organic molecule, that is, a simple type of carbohydrate.
They are chemically composed of repeating units of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms.
It is one of the most abundant organic compounds in nature, and one of the key pieces of life as we know it.
Properties of sugars
- Sugars are easily assimilated by the body.
- Sugar molecules can have long chains of smaller molecules or they can consist of just one, but their atoms are generally arranged in a ring.
- They are generally transparent or whitish compounds, crystalline in appearance, and soluble in water, which upon entering the body are easily assimilated through the intestine.
Types of sugars
Sugars are classified based on their complexity, that is, on the number of units or rings that their molecule has. We thus have the following types:
Monosaccharides. Also called simple sugars, they have a single unit and therefore the smallest molecules. They are named based on the amount of carbon atoms they present: trioses (3), tetroses (4), pentoses (5), etc.
Disaccharides. Also called double sugars, they are the product of the union of two identical or different monosaccharides, a disaccharide emerges.
Trisaccharides. Also called triple sugars, they are formed by the union of 3 units.
Function of sugars
- The breakdown of sugars creates chemical energy in the form of ATP.
- Sugars are simple macromolecules and in that sense they have relatively fast processing cycles (metabolism).
- Its primary role is as a source of energy at the cellular level: once incorporated into the body, it proceeds to glycolysis.
- This process is the reduction of sugar molecules (glucose), through complex oxidation processes using oxygen taken from air (or water) in respiration.
- The breakdown of sugar allows the release of chemical energy in the form of ATP (Adenosine triphosphate), reusable for all other processes in the body.
How are sugars obtained?
Sugars can be easily obtained from certain plant species, such as sugar cane or beets. In this case sucrose is obtained.
In the case of our body, part of the function of digestion is to reduce the chemical elements ingested to their fundamental components, many of which are precisely carbohydrates
Differences between sugars and carbohydrates
- While sugars are simple substances, carbohydrates are more extensive.
- As has been said before, the fundamental difference between the two lies in the degree of complexity.
- All sugars are carbohydrates, since they are made up of primarily hydrogen, carbon and oxygen atoms.
- But while sugars are relatively simple substances, carbohydrates are more extensive and no longer have many of their fundamental characteristics. They are not sweet, they are not soluble in water, they do not have reducing capacity, etc.
Why are sugars important?
Sugars are an important source of chemical energy for organisms.
Furthermore, they are the fundamental “building blocks” of larger and more complex compounds, such as the extensive chains of polysaccharides, which in turn fulfill much more complex functions. As structural material, as part of biochemical compounds, and so on.
Nutritional value of sugars
Uncontrolled sugar intake leads to metabolic problems.
Sugars contribute to the diet about 4 kilocalories per gram consumed, and no vitamins or minerals.
Its cycle in our body is fast, since it is simple carbohydrates, and its consumption in excess has harmful effects on the body, such as an increase in the tendency to cavities and in the propensity to diabetes.
Especially in children and adolescents, its uncontrolled intake can lead to metabolic problems.
On the other hand, the excess of these molecules rich in chemical energy is stored in the body, thus generating an increase in body fat.
Foods rich in sugars
Many plant and animal foods are rich in simple sugars.
For example, fruits and vegetables all have large amounts of fructose and sucrose, as do honey, dairy products (lactose), and cereals (maltose).
Similarly, processed foods with sugar content such as carbonated drinks, industrial bread, and sweets and desserts, tend to have very high sugar content.
Examples of sugars
- Glucose. The fundamental energy molecule to sustain the breathing of living beings. It is a hexose (monosaccharide) and is found free in honey and fruits.
- Fructose. A sugar present in vegetables and fruits, whose empirical formula is identical to that of glucose, but structurally different. It is a ketohexose, as it has six carbon atoms and a ketone group.
- Monosaccharide A monosaccharide common in plant tissues, classifiable as an aldose, that is, a sugar with an aldehyde group attached to one of its carbon atoms. It presents an enormous energy efficiency.
- Lactose. The simple sugar present in milk and that gives it both its sweetness and its energy value. It is a disaccharide composed of a molecule of galactose and another of glucose.
- Saccharose. Common sugar, or table sugar, is a disaccharide made up of glucose and fructose, synthesized in plants but not in higher animals.