eli5: Sugars are carbs. What is different about sugar that requires it to be listed separately on a nutritionql label?


eli5: Sugars are carbs. What is different about sugar that requires it to be listed separately on a nutritionql label?

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i think it’s more accurate to say that carbs are broken down into sugars in your stomach that your body can use for energy. foods that are high in sugar give you energy too, but the human body isn’t meant to digest these processed, already broken down sugars, which is why it messes with people’s insulin levels and pancreas. in other words, they list sugar separately because it’s so harmful to the body

The idea is that we need to have sugar called out specifically because its the type of carb that we most often consume too much of. The callout is for awareness, education, and tracking your intake of sugar. “50 carbs, but 45 of them are sugar” versus “50 carbs, 5 of which are sugar”. Very important to be able to see the difference, hence the callout.

Sugar is made up of glucose and fructose. Fructose can only be processed by the liver, while the whole body can utilize glucose.

Carbs are long chains of glucose only and when digested, they are only converted to glucose.

Not all carbs are equal. The two act very differently when consumed.

There are some carbohydrates humans cannot even digest because we lack the enzymes, don’t chew our cud, and lack the hind-gut fermenting microbes horses and pigs possess.




If you eat an amount of refined sugar equal to what is in an apple, it’s absorbed in the stomach in minutes, but if you eat an apple, those intra-cellular carbohydrates are still being absorbed in the distal small bowel hours later. The gut bacteria treat it differently, the liver treats it differently, the pancreas treats it differently, and on top of that, you get vitamins, other anti-oxidents, and fiber.

It’s true there is little practical difference between refined sugar and something like refined white flour, which is too prevalent in the Western diet, but between, say, sugar and a yam, there is a whole cascade of enzymes, hormones, and time that make a difference.

It has to do with the number of carbon atoms linked in a chain. Sugar is usually disaccharides or monosaccharides meaning very few carbon molecules in a chain. These are things like fructose, glucose or sucrose.

Your cells can burn purr sugar without having to break down the complex carbohydrates. So straight from your stomach into the bloodstream and into your cells for power, energy and hyperactivity in children.

In order for your body to use complex carbohydrates your digestive system needs to break them down into sugar for your cells to use. This takes time and your body can only process so much at any given time. As a result there is a slower controlled release of sugar into your blood and cells.

The most important statistic for your health about a type of carbohydrate is the Glysymic Index (GI). The GI will tell us how fast that type of carb is absorbed by the body. The faster the absorption rate the higher the spike in blood sugar. The larger the spike the more insulin is released. Insulin regulates the uptake of sugar and the higher the insulin the more sugar is converted into fat. Additionally, you can develop a resistance to insulin which is known as type 2 diabetes. On top of this high GI carbs lead to cycles of high energy followed by crashes which messes with the hormones that control hunger. Low GI carbs will contain the same number of calories as high GI carbs but they are significantly more healthy for you because they are absorbed slower and keep you “fuller” for longer. Sugar (glucose) is the highest GI carb there is.

I think it is also significant to add here, that fibre is a carbohydrate. Your body can’t process it and it just passes right through your system so it doesn’t really have an effect on your body or your blood sugar levels if you are diabetic or just trying to stick to a low carb diet.

It’s about politics more than it is about sugar.

Nutritional labels are something that politicans can change easily. Government organizations like the Food & Drug Administration (USA) and similar are who regulate nutritional labels, and they have limited oversight from legislation. The people in charge of this organization can unilaterally do a thing and go “we’re doing something about obesity”.

Measures that would actually curb obesity are typically wildly unpopular and/or would cause more problems than they solve. The result of enacting such policies is a sweep from government of the party that enacted them and a complete reversal of the policies by the new government. So the politicians do these feel-good measures to say they’re doing something without enacting wildly unpopular and oppressive policies to curb obesity.

Sugar damages your veins and other parts of your body. The other carbs don’t. Sugar is listed on nutritional labels to help you choose foods that have less sugar

Sugar is half part fructose and half part glucose. When you ingest sugar, it’s absorbed immediately by our body. The glucose is used up by our bodies as fuel. Our bodies can’t use the fructose part in any bodily function. It goes to the liver and is converted into fat and stored. Lot of sugar consumption with limited physical activity continues to build this fat up which isn’t good.

Repeated exposure of high levels of sugar in bloodstream can cause our bodies to develop resistance to insulin which ultimately causes diabetes which can further cause cardio vascular diseases.

To be healthy keep intake of refined carbs like sugar or refined flour to minimum. If you have carbs, make sure you have lot of fiber along with it. Having fiber with carbs reduces the amount of carbs the body absorbs.

**ELI5**: Carbs are a family that contains sugar but also complex carbs and fiber. Sugar content is the most important carb when making decisions about what is ‘healthy’ as it is linked to many diseases which is why its singled out.

**More in-depth**: Carbohydrates can be broadly divided into three groups: simple carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates, and fiber.

*Simple carbs* are mono- and disaccharides such as table sugar (sucrose which is glucose + fructose). These are absorbed quickly by your GI system and cause a rapid spike in your blood sugar which is accompanied by a rapid spike in your insulin levels to compensate. Regularly consuming foods high in simple carbs has been shown to lead to obesity, cardiovascular disease, and other diseases. Having sugars listed on the labels (theoretically) allows consumers to make more informed choices on what they are putting in their bodies as sugar has been shown to have these negative effects.

*Complex carbs* are longer chain polysaccharides (literally many glucoses chained together) which take longer for your body to digest. This leads to a slow and steady increase in blood sugar and a slow and steady increase in insulin levels which can be well managed by your body. Foods high in complex carbs have actually been shown to be beneficial for people with type-2 diabetes (second link at the bottom).

*Fiber* is an insoluble form of carbohydrates that our bodies cannot process. Since it cannot be processed, it will never be absorbed or used as energy and will pass through our GI system. But it does play an important role in your GI health as it helps keep things moving and contributes to the feeling of being full.

There is a ton of misinformation about sugar including in this thread already so be vigilant about the information your read. One of my current pet peeves is defining sugars as “natural” or “added”/”refined”. The source of the sugar doesn’t make a difference in the chemical make up of it. Glucose is glucose is glucose. Orange juice that contains 100% natural sugars doesn’t make it any healthier than orange juice that contains 100% added sugars. Harvard med wrote a great article about it here: [https://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2015/natural-and-added-sugars-two-sides-of-the-same-coin/](https://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2015/natural-and-added-sugars-two-sides-of-the-same-coin/)

However, how the sugar is packaged is important: fruit mainly has intracellular sugar with vitamins, minerals, and fiber which limit the spike in blood sugar. Compare that to apple juice which has freely dissolved sugar (natural though!) and removed the fiber allowing for rapid absorption and spiking blood sugar.

**AHA recommendations on carbs:** [https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/carbohydrates](https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/carbohydrates)

**Harvard School of Public Health article on simple vs complex carbs:** [https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/carbohydrates-and-blood-sugar/](https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/carbohydrates-and-blood-sugar/)

**STATpearls article on carbohydrates**: [https://europepmc.org/article/NBK/nbk459280](https://europepmc.org/article/NBK/nbk459280)

Sugars are generally called simple because of their molecular structure (they digest rapidly) and enter the blood stream faster. This in turn causes a rapid rise in blood glucose, which can be harmful to the body sp you get a rapid spike in insulin. Insulin causes your cells to absorb the sugars super fast. This leads to weight gain as often the sugar is converted to fat. There’s a lot more to that, but that’s simple sugars.
Complex carbs, or the ones not listed as simple, are much larger molecules that take a long time to digest. Therefore, the rate of glucose rise in your body is slower which results in less of an insulin spike.
Sugar = simple carb = small molecule = fast digesting.
Other carbs = complex carbs = larger molecules = slower digesting.

there are basically two kinds of carbs:

* Sugars: which are small, don’t need to be digested, and are absorbed into your bloodstream very quickly.
* complex carbs (mostly starch): which are long chains of sugars. They need to be digested to break the sugars apart, and that means they are absorbed gradually.

So if you eat sugars, your blood sugar levels will rise very fast, and if you eat starch, it will rise more gradually.

sugars are carbs in the same way that bricks are houses. Simple sugars combine with other things to make carbohydrates. We talk about them in the same way sometimes because our bodies break carbs down into simple sugars to use them, so they work through many of the same processes in the body. But if someone asked you to look at a subdivision under construction and tell them how many houses were there, you wouldn’t count a pallet of bricks. It’s part of a house, but it’s not similar enough at this stage to count.