What is sucrose? While you probably just call it sugar, the scientific name for table sugar is actually sucrose. While sucrose is found naturally in a variety of foods that contain carbohydrates, many of which are foods with otherwise healthy nutritional value, it’s also added to foods to give them that sweet taste so many of us crave — such as sugar-sweetened beverages, desserts, sweet snacks, sweetened coffee and tea, and candy. Less than 10% of calories per day should come from added sugar, according to the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025. Yet, for American adults, added sugars account for almost 270 calories — or more than 13% — of total calories consumed per day. Why is this a cause for concern? Our sugar intake continues to rise and it affects not only the risk of getting diabetes, but also of dying from heart disease. Furthermore, the risk of obesity rises, increasing the risks of certain cancers, as well.
What’s the difference between sucrose, fructose, and glucose?
In order to understand sucrose, we first need to talk about glucose and fructose, which are two other types of sugar, and are also the two molecules that make up sucrose.
What is glucose?
- Glucose is a monosaccharide, also known as a “simple sugar,” which is a carbohydrate molecule that can’t be broken down any further. As a result, it gets absorbed directly across the lining of the small intestine and into your bloodstream. Glucose is what your body primarily uses for energy. It raises blood sugar levels much more rapidly than sucrose or fructose, and it triggers the production of insulin to move glucose from your blood into your cells for energy (or into the liver or muscles for later use). Learn more: What Is Glucose?
What is fructose?
- Fructose is a monosaccharide, too. It’s the one most often found in fruits, root vegetables, and honey. Unlike glucose, it causes a more gradual rise in blood sugar levels. But that doesn’t mean you should go crazy eating fructose-rich foods.: fructose is either stored as fat or converted into glucose so it can be used for energy. Too much fructose has been linked to high triglycerides and fatty liver disease. In fact, one study found that of all three sugars, added fructose — either as a part of added sucrose or as the main component of high-fructose sweeteners — may be the most harmful to your health and put you at greatest risk of diabetes. However, naturally occurring fructose found in whole foods like fruits and vegetables had the opposite effect and is likely to even have a protective effect against diabetes.
What is sucrose?
- Sucrose is a disaccharide. It’s made up of one fructose molecule and one glucose molecule. Because it’s not a simple sugar, it has to be broken down into fructose and glucose before your body is able to metabolize it. Once you have those fructose and glucose molecules, they go on to behave as we’ve already discussed, potentially contributing to high blood sugar levels and excess fat.
How much sucrose is in fruits and vegetables?
Source: Canadian Sugar Institute
Naturally occurring sucrose vs. added sucrose
Sucrose shows up in our diet in one of two ways: It’s either naturally found in whole food sources or it’s been added during processing, which means it’s a component of processed and ultra-processed foods.
Naturally, sucrose is found in many fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and grains. In other words, it’s in lots of the good stuff you’re supposed to eat. Fruits and veggies that contain sucrose include:
- Sweet peas
- Sweet corn
When sucrose is added to foods to give it that sweet, tempting taste, it’s no longer considered natural. Foods that can contain added sucrose include:
- White bread
- Ice cream
- Fruit juice
- Spaghetti sauce
While it’s the same sucrose whether it’s added to a food or not, the difference often lies in what else a food has going for it. Take for instance a banana or a cup of ice cream. While a banana and ice cream both contain sucrose, bananas have many other good-for-you micronutrients (like potassium) that your body needs to thrive. Foods loaded with added sugar are often devoid of other micronutrients (if they contain any at all), so the choice should be a no-brainer: If you’re going to consume sugars, you want to get them from the least refined sources that also provide other nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
And even among whole-food, unrefined, “natural” sources of sucrose, certain of them may affect your blood sugar levels in different ways. For example, apricots, oranges, pineapples, and peaches each show sucrose as being the dominant sugar form contained within, meaning that more than 50% of total sugar is sucrose, not free fructose nor free glucose. By contrast, pears, apples, bananas and grapes contain much less sucrose per gram of total sugar than those previous fruits. Checking where a fruit stands on the Glycemic Index (GI) may help you determine the relative impact of each carbohydrate’s impact on blood glucose levels, and looking at how it rates for Glycemic Load (GL) can tell you how quickly a food causes glucose to enter the bloodstream and how much glucose you’ll get per serving.
You can’t escape sucrose. It’s in plenty of the healthy whole foods that you should eat, but it can also show up in lots of foods that provide little to no benefit to your overall diet (we’re looking at you, soda and sweets). So while you already know it’s not a good idea to consume table sugar (aka sucrose) by the spoonfuls, it’s also vitally important to limit foods loaded with added sugar, which quite often is sucrose. If you have been diagnosed with prediabetes or diabetes, you will want to determine how all foods, even those containing naturally- occurring sucrose, impact your blood sugar levels. Learn more about how to track what you’re eating and how it’s affecting you using a CGM.
Looking for info on how to deal with a sucrose intolerance? Read our in-depth blog for all you need to know.