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What’s the Difference Between Sucrose and Fructose?

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 25, 2021

You may be surprised to learn that sugar is a plant product. In fact, all green plants create sugar during photosynthesis. Sugar cane and sugar beets are the most efficient sugar plants. 

When you talk about sugar nutrition, you may hear a lot of different words for sugar, such as sucrose, glucose, and fructose. These and many others are all types of sugars. They bond together to create a lot of your favorite treats.

Despite their differences, sucrose and fructose have one thing in common, and that's how they affect your health. As a carbohydrate, sugar plays an important role in some of your body’s functions. Like any other carbohydrate, too much sugar can be bad for you. 

All About Sugar

Every sugar is categorized as either a monosaccharide or disaccharide. 

A monosaccharide is a simple sugar molecule. It is the smallest building block of all sugars. There are three types of monosaccharides: glucose, fructose, and galactose. When two monosaccharides bond, they create a larger sugar compound called a disaccharide. 

Two bonded monosaccharides create a disaccharide. There are also three types of disaccharides: sucrose, lactose, and maltose. The type of disaccharide is often identifiable by its source. This could be lactose in dairy products or maltose in grains. 

Many common disaccharides contain glucose, primarily sucrose and lactose. When your body processes glucose, it is absorbed by your bloodstream. The more glucose your body absorbs, the greater risk for health complications. 

All About Fructose

Fructose is a monosaccharide that is commonly known as fruit sugar. Fructose naturally occurs in fruits, vegetables, honey, sugar cane, and sugar beets. It’s around 1.5 times sweeter than typical table sugar. 

Your body processes fructose differently than it does other sugars. Fructose is metabolized in your liver and converted into energy. This means that your body doesn’t need insulin to process fructose and that it has a smaller effect on your blood glucose levels.

All About Sucrose

Sucrose is a disaccharide made of glucose and fructose. It’s commonly known as “table sugar” but it can be found naturally in fruits, vegetables, and nuts. However, it’s also produced commercially from sugar cane and sugar beets through a refinement process. 

When sucrose is metabolized by your body, your liver takes care of the fructose while the glucose is taken to your bloodstream with the help of insulin. Too much glucose means you may experience complications with your blood sugar levels. 

Sugar is used as more than just a sweetener for coffee:

  • It provides structure and consistency in baked goods.
  • It serves as a preservative in jams and jellies.
  • It stabilizes the separation of liquids.
  • It gives foods their notable flavors. 

Health Impacts of Sucrose and Fructose

A hot-button health topic is sugar’s role in your diet. Knowing how sugars interact with your body may change your opinion about going sugar-free. 

Sugars are carbohydrates, and your body needs carbs and sugars. Your brain requires around 130 grams of glucose every day to ensure it operates smoothly. Energy from carbs is essential to your body’s function. 

Your body doesn’t care where sugars come from. The sucrose in your coffee and the sucrose from your morning peach are the same sugar. However, the source of your sucrose matters for a variety of other health reasons. Choosing wisely can lower several health risks.

When you get your sucrose from whole foods like fruits and vegetables, you’re also getting fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Getting sucrose from soda or candy supplies your body with only the sugar, and usually too much. This is where the danger lies. 

Too much added sugar (whether fructose or sucrose) in your diet can pose serious health risks.

Sugar hurts your heart. Studies show that a diet high in sugar increases your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by nearly 40%. More sugar equals more risk. 

Fructose hurts your liver. Fruit sugar is a better way to manage blood sugar, but it can lead to problems with your liver. Sugar is processed the same as alcohol, so excess sugar can also lead to fatty liver disease and diabetes. 

Added sugars add up. Added sugars often sneak into your diet through sugary drinks and snacks. They can lead to:

  • Weight gain
  • High blood pressure
  • Chronic inflammation 

What to Do?

It is recommended that you get less than 150 calories a day from added sugars, which is about 36 grams of sugar. To put it in perspective, a 12 oz. of cola has around 40 grams of sugar. Getting your daily sugars from whole foods like fruits and vegetables provides you with more nutrients than a can of soda. So, choose your sugars wisely.

Show Sources

SOURCES:
A Level Biology: “Difference between monosaccharide, disaccharide and polysaccharide.”
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “How bad is fructose?”
eufic: “Glucose and The Brain: Improving Mental Performance.”
Harvard Health Publishing: “The sweet danger of sugar.”
IFT: “Sugars: A Scientific Overview.”
UCSF sugarscience: “How The Body Metabolizes Sugar.”

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