Food Chemistry Basics: Proteins, Fats, and Carbs (part 4) - Carbohydrates - Analyzing Your Carbs

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3.3 Analyzing Your Carbs

You can determine the amount of fructose in food in the following manner: search for a food like a 12-ounce can of Sprite at NutritionData (http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/beverages/3870/2). This little exercise demonstrates how you can analyze food on your own, among other things. Expand the NutritionData segment on the carbohydrates in the soda-can contents, as shown in Figure 5.

A 12-ounce can of soda cranks out the sugar

Figure 5. A 12-ounce can of soda cranks out the sugar

This beverage contains about 33 grams, or 132 kcal, of sugar, and guess what? They give you a free refill. The carbs include 19,151 mg, or about 19.2 grams, of fructose and 2,399 mg (2.4 grams) of sucrose. The sucrose, however, is about 50 percent fructose, so you can determine the total fructose quantity as follows: 19151 + (2399 / 2) = 20,350 mg, or 20.3 grams.

Before you completely condemn and wipe your hands of soda, realize that a large cultivated apple also contains a notable quantity of fructose.


Apples are generally cultivated to have, among other characteristics, a large size and a sweet taste compared with the typical runty, tart apples growing in the wild. These characteristics of cultivation are usually a good thing, providing many people with fresh apples containing some antioxidants and vitamin C throughout the year. They are not a good development on the fructose front though, for reasons that are explained up ahead. Besides, eating small wild apples (admittedly hard to find for people who don’t live in the countryside) provides more antioxidants. The antioxidants are in the skin, and you have to eat more of the wild apples to get the same number of calories as you would from the large store-bought apples.

A large apple contains 4,617 mg of sucrose and 13,157 mg of fructose, according to NutritionData. Therefore, using our prior calculation, we see that it contains a total of 13,157 + (4,617 / 2) = 15,465mg, or about 15.5 grams, of fructose. This is comparable to the amount of fructose in a 12-ounce can of soda; however, the vitamin C content in an apple may help counter the negative health effects of excess fructose consumption

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I don’t want to dissuade people from eating apples (I eat them, particularly when I can pluck them off a tree). But the point is that a fructose is a fructose is a fructose, whether it comes from a pretty apple laid out at the store or a can of soda.

The Skinny on Fructose

Many things in nature have a dose-response relationship—they might be great when experienced or imbibed in a small dose, but bad when taken in a large dose. If you were being held captive by a pirate in a small room and eating creepy-crawlies off the floor to survive, getting some fresh fruit, including its fructose content, would be a great life-sustaining thing.

Even once you’ve been released, munching on some fresh fruit once in a while would be a good idea—at the very least, it would keep you from geting scurvy (caused by a severe vitamin C deficiency).

Apparently, though, consuming lots of fructose—the simple sugar or monosaccharide found in plants but more typically consumed in the form of table sugar or high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)—can be very unhealthy, in fact toxic. In regular doses as low as 50, 70, to 100 grams per day, fructose can induce insulin resistance (a precursor to other problems such as diabetes and obesity), chronic inflammation, weight gain around the abdomen, a fatty liver, excess uric acid, and other problems. Fructose appears similar in terms of its negative effect on the liver to booze or ethanol, its fermentation byproduct.

Basically, seek to eliminate the consumption of fructose- or HFCS-containing sodas and numerous other processed foods, and you avoid munching on commercial apples or watermelon all throughout the day (although vitamin C does seem to diminish the not-so-good fructose effects). Lemons, for example, are a great source of vitamin C and low in fructose. Just keep in mind that it’s a dose-response relationship (everything in moderation).

Exercise also seems to help offset some of the bad metabolic aspects of fructose.

When you drink cow’s milk, part of what you consume is lactose, which is a sugar that is made of one part glucose and one part galactose.


One cup of whole milk contains about 13 grams of sugar, all of that in the form of 12,836 mg (or 12.8 grams) of lactose. The whole milk has a macronutrient ratio of 30-49-21, meaning that it is 49 percent fats. About 70 percent of its calories come from fat and protein (see http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/dairy-and-egg-products/69/2).

The lack of lactase, an enzyme that splits apart lactose into its digestible constituents of glucose and galactose in the small intestine, is commonly known as lactose intolerance. People with this common form of indigestion don’t get along with regular milk, often replacing it with soy milk.

Maltose is a disaccharide composed of two glucose molecules bonded together. When barley is malted during the brewing of beer, this process breaks down the barley starch into maltose. Yeast will later use this sugar to fuel its lifecycle, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide as byproducts.

3.4 Polysaccharides, or Starches

Polysaccharides are many sugars bonded together, sometimes consisting of thousands of glucose monomers. In other words, they are big complex Lego structures of glucose and other molecules. This is why they are commonly referred to as complex carbohydrates.


A complex carb is ultimately a big interconnected blob of sugar. When digested, it’s split apart into many glucose monomers and released relatively quickly into the bloodstream, at least in terms of its effect on your metabolism. Some complex carbs or starches, like potatoes and white bread, have a higher glycemic index—an old measure of the effect of foods on glucose and insulin spikes in the blood—than table sugar. A complex carb like brown rice does not contain any fructose, however, which is a good thing if you’re looking for more carbs but no more fructose. Fiber-containing complex carbs such as squash have an added advantage in that they beneficially feed the microbiota in your colon after their incomplete digestion in the small intestine.

Polysaccharides include the starches we eat, such as a banana or a baked potato; glycogen, the animal starch we store in our muscles and liver (as well as a few other less substantial stores); and cellulose, which we cannot digest but often are implored to chew down as fiber.


Ruminant animals or herbivores like grazing cows, sheep, goats, bison, moose, and elk have specially designed stomachs that use microorganisms to ferment cellulose, whether it be grass or sticks or twigs or weeds, into a digestible substance, which is eventually absorbed by their systems as short-chain fatty acids. So, while they are herbivores or plant eaters, they have a high-fat diet!

We can digest starch because we have the enzyme amylase in our saliva, as well as in the pancreatic juices that help break the starch down in our small intestines. Amylase helps break up starch into maltose, the double-glucose sugar, and maltase takes care of the rest of the job so the glucose can be absorbed into the bloodstream.

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