How Many Sugars?
Sorting Out Sugar TermsREAD MORE
From Simple to Complex
Simple sugars, also known as simple carbohydrates, are so named because they are built on just one or two molecules. The structure of other sugars may be chemically described as complex, but the concept isn’t complicated: A complex in biochemical terms indicates a molecular structure that is constructed of two or more conjoined molecules.
Let’s unpack some of the terminology. Saccharide is simply a biochemical name for a sugar molecule. Some sugar molecules exist on their own and some are bonded to other sugar molecules. Think of the molecules like checkers, where a piece can move independently around the board or be stacked on top of another.
The saccharide prefixes — mono, di-, tri- — indicate how many sugar units are in that molecule; whether it’s a single or double checker, so to speak.
Simple carbs are either monosaccharides (one sugar) or disaccharides (two sugars).
Polysaccharides are complex carbs. They are formed by more than 10 monosaccharides linked together. LESS
Simple vs. Complex: The Dietary DifferencesREAD MORE
The body needs food molecules to be broken down before they can be absorbed. Due to their “simple” construction, simple sugars can be absorbed easily and put to use rapidly. Foods with simple sugars are the quickest dietary energy sources.
Like twigs on a hot fire, simple carbs burn up quickly. That’s why candy bars and soda are good only for short bursts of energy. And because they are used up rapidly, these foods very soon leave you feeling hungry again.
Complex carbs take a longer time to burn. They are more like logs on a fire, burning hot and slow. When athletes “carbo load” before an endurance event like a marathon race, they seek complex carbs like pasta and potatoes for stamina. These foods provide energy, and satiate hunger, for a longer period of time.
Image of potato cell courtesy of Markus Nolf LESS