There is a lot of information regarding sugar. This abundance of data can be useful but does present challenges for clinicians who oftentimes must summarize useful materials that can serve many individuals.
Simply put, sugar, typically refers to all carbohydrates with a general molecular makeup of CnH2On. Sugar can be found in plants, animal milk or it can also be chemically manufactured. Sources of naturally occurring sugars include things like fruit and cow’s milk. Added sugars are those where any type of sugar or sweetener is added to a food item. Even if a naturally occurring sugar is added to a food product, that product must still claim to have added sugars.
The body metabolizes sugar for fuel where glucose is used as a quick energy source. When glucose is consumed, sugar levels in the blood rise, and the pancreas is stimulated to release insulin. Insulin triggers an uptake of sugar from the blood to cells. If sugar is consumed in tandem with fiber, up to 30% of that sugar may not be absorbed. This slows the rate of rising blood sugar, which has been linked to health benefits. Excess glucose that cannot be used immediately will be stored as glycogen in muscles or as lipids in fat tissue to be used later.
Glycogen is a chain of bonded glucose molecules that can be broken apart and used as a fuel source during physical activity. On average, the amount of stored glycogen in the body is 600g but can vary depending on diet, physical activity and body mass. Adequate carbohydrate consumption is required to replace glycogen that has been used during exercise. If glycogen is significantly depleted and not properly replenished, an individual can experience fatigue, weakness, impaired performance and hypoglycemia. Recommendations for daily carbohydrate consumption to replace glycogen range from 3-10g of carbohydrate per kg of body weight, depending on the level of daily physical activity.
Cheyenne is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist located in the Charleston, SC area.