What are Complex and Simple Sugars And Which is Best for Cancer Patients?
Complex and Simple Sugars. Sugar is a natural ingredient found in many foods, but it’s also the one that gets ultra-processed and created in a lab, making it potentially toxic to our system. So how do you differentiate which sugars are good for you and which ones to stay away from? Here’s a simple guide to help you understand this important nutrient.
What are Sugars?
Sugars are classified as carbohydrates, and they’re just one of the many types, in addition to starches and fiber. They are naturally occurring in all carbohydrates, but vary in their ratio with other types. This makes a food higher or lower in sugar. These naturally occurring sugars can be found in all grains, legumes, beans, fruit, and vegetables, and when combined with other nutrients, create a well-balanced nutrient profile your body can digest and use for energy.
They are typically divided into two types: complex and simple, based on whether they consist of one molecule (monosaccharides) or two molecules (disaccharides). As they’re naturally found in nature, they exist in their given forms and don’t interact with one another. However, when used to create artificial sugars, they can often change their form and act differently in our bodies.
The Role of Sugar in the Human Body
Sugar is one of the main building blocks of carbohydrates, and this macronutrient is one of the three essential pillars of nutrition. Together with protein and fat, carbohydrates help build our bodies, optimize their functions, and balance out our hormones.
More specifically, carbohydrates are our main nutritional energy source, helping balance out our metabolism, blood sugar levels, cholesterol, and gut health. Even though each one of us is different and responds to certain foods in a different way, when we don’t intake enough carbohydrates, our bodies look for another energy source to sustain its functions. They do so by either breaking down the protein in our muscles (gluconeogenesis) or using body fat (ketones).
Glucose is especially significant for your brain, which isn’t able to easily use other fuel sources for energy. When there isn’t enough glucose, the neurotransmitters can’t perform their functions in an optimal way, potentially leading to poor cognitive function and lack of focus.
When ingested, carbohydrates break down into dugars, starches, and fiber. Your body takes the sugars and converts them into glucose, letting it flow freely through your bloodstream. Your muscles intake as much glucose they need to function and then the rest is stored as glycogen in your liver or muscle cells. Glycogen gets converted back into glucose once the levels in your blood start to drop, in order to feed the muscles and give your cells energy. The most important thing to note is that our bodies are complex, yet very simple organisms when it comes to sugar breakdown. When ingesting carbohydrates and breaking them down into glucose, they don’t necessarily distinguish between naturally occurring sugars and those that are added to foods, simply because they are chemically the same. However, the impact of artificial versus natural sugars can vary greatly.
Complex and Simple Sugars
As previously mentioned, sugars typically exist in two main forms, and here are the most commonly found sugars in the food we eat on a daily basis.
Starting off with simple sugars, these contain only one molecule and are therefore the easiest to digest:
- Glucose: Also known as dextrose, glucose is perhaps the most commonly referred to sugar, and it’s found in the majority of foods containing carbohydrates
- Fructose: Mostly found in fruits
- Galactose: Mostly found in dairy products
- Mannose: Mostly found in plants and microbes
These sugars contain two molecules, and they’re usually a combination of the simple sugars:
- Sucrose: Glucose + Fructose (also known as table sugar)
- Lactose: Glucose + Galactose
- Maltose: Glucose + Glucose
Artificially Added Sugars and Sweeteners
In addition to naturally occurring sugars, many processed foods contain added sugars in order to improve flavor and increase the shelf-life of the product. These can range from those derived from plants (such as allulose, monkfruit sweetener, and yacon syrup) to those that are commercially produced (such as molasses, high-fructose corn syrup, and maltitol). Some of these have a better impact on your body than others as they have a low glycemic index, while others can wreak havoc in your system and cause inflammation.
The glycemic index is a well-known value used to measure how much specific foods increase your blood sugar levels. Sugars tend to be on the higher side of the glycemic index, although not all of them raise your blood sugar the same way. Natural sweeteners such as yacon syrup, monkfruit sweetener, and allulose actually have a lower impact on your blood sugar levels, making them suitable even for diabetics.
On the other hand, sugars and sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup, maltitol, and confectionary sugar spike your blood through the roof, causing inflammation and leaving your body at risk for infections and diseases.
Sugars and Cancer
Although a link between sugar and cancer has been established, there is currenlty no concrete scientific evidence that proves how one influences the other. What we do know is that all cells in the body use glucose as fuel, and so do cancer cells. Unfortunately, we still haven’t figured out a way for our cells to keep intaking glucose and preventing the cancer cells to do the same.
Glucose that feeds every cell comes from all types of carbohydrates, which leads many people to believe how following a low-carbohydrate diet would work best. Once again, there is no scientific evidence that can back this up, and by transferring to a low-carb diet, one of the main consequences can be unintentional weight loss which can have a detrimental effect on the cancer treatment itself.
So, the real question behind which types of sugar are the best and which types of sugars are the worst for those diagnosed with cancer, the answer is actually quite simple. Stick to natural foods with natural sugars, and avoid ultra-processed foods that on top of spiking your blood sugar also cause inflammation and put your system into overload. Excess sugar consumption can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other serious diseases. That’s the link between sugar and cancer, and that’s what you need to focus on avoiding.
Sugar is a natural byproduct of carbohydrates, one of the main macronutrients our bodies need to function. Still, the type of carbohydrate matters, and depending on the source the sugar comes from it can have a drastically different affect on our bodies. Stick to natural foods and avoid packaged, ultra-processed foods to reduce the risk of inflammation and insulin resistance.
I have found my cancer journey to be a positive and profound transformational experience. I’m inspired to share my healing journey here, and trust you’ll find hope, encouragement and purpose as you discover the healing power that lies within you.