This is an updated version of an article originally published on CurioCity on January 23, 2012.
While many of us eventually outgrow "Trick or Treating" on Halloween, many of us may never outgrow sugar cravings. And with all those tempting, Halloween-sized treats available at this time of year, those cravings are almost impossible to fight!
Candy has sugar in it. Sugar can cause a variety of health issues. But if you’re eating sugar infrequently, it’s an important source of energy.
Sugar as an Energy Source
Let’s imagine you open your bag of treats on the day after Halloween and snack on a chocolate bar. How does your body use the sugar from that chocolate bar for energy?
Sugar, the glorious stuff that makes candy sweet, is classified as a carbohydrate. It’s made up of many small, single molecules. During digestion, your body breaks the sugar from candy down into these single-molecule sugar units. In your intestine (gut), they’re absorbed into your bloodstream. Once in your bloodstream, they travel to the various cells throughout your body.
These sugar molecules provide the energy that your cells need to work properly. They're like fuel for your car!
Did you know? Sugar isn't the only source of carbohydrates you can eat. Pasta, bread, potatoes, and rice are also good sources.
The reason why sugar and other carbohydrates are an important part of a healthy diet is because of what carbohydrates (or "carbs") do for your body. They:
- Can be easily used for energy
- Are stored in the muscles and used when we need an extra boost of energy, like during exercise
- Supply vitamins, minerals and fibre to your body
Nutrition experts suggest that every day about 40-60% of all your calories from food should come from carbohydrates. This means that if you eat 1500 calories worth of food every day, then 600-900 of those calories should come from carbs!
The Chemistry of Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates come in two forms: simple and complex.
Let’s start with complex carbohydrates. They’re also called starches, and are made up of individual sugar units connected together in long chains. Your body needs to break them down during digestion to get energy. Examples include pastas, cereals, whole grains, dried beans and starchy vegetables such as potatoes and corn. Some complex carbohydrates, such as cellulose, cannot be broken down in the human digestive system. They are often known as fibre and are an important part of a balanced diet.
Meanwhile, simple carbohydrates are sugars made up of one or two sugar molecules. Simple carbohydrates are easily broken down by the digestive system, which means they can be easily used by your body for energy. Examples include sugars, candy, gum, cakes, and cookies.
Simple carbohydrates can be divided into 3 classes:
Monosaccharides, or single unit sugars
Glucose: often called blood sugar when talking about blood glucose
Fructose: one of the main sugars you get from eating fruit
Galactose: the main sugar you get from milk and dairy products
Disaccharides, made up of two monosaccharides linked together
Sucrose (table sugar) = glucose + fructose
Lactose (milk sugar) = glucose + galactose
Maltose (malt sugar) = glucose + glucose
Polyols, sugar-free sweetners
They are carbohydrates, and are derived from sugars, but they are not considered to be sugars.Your body doesn’t process polyols the same way it processes sugar, so you can’t use them as a source of energy.
Did you know? In everyday language, when people say “sugar,” they usually mean sucrose. But when doctors or your science teacher say “sugars,” they usually mean any combination of mono-, di and polysaccharides.
As you’ve seen, sugar gives you energy. Some people believe it can give you too much energy - that is, that you’ll get hyperactive if you eat too much of it. You may have heard people call this state a “sugar high.”
But scientists have not actually been able to collect evidence to support this claim. In fact, no less than twelve scientific studies on sugar and behaviour failed to provide any evidence that eating lots of sugar can make you hyperactive. These studies used both candy and chocolate and found absolutely no negative effect of these foods on behaviour.
So candy might not make you hyper. Does that mean you can eat it to your heart’s delight on Halloween? I wouldn’t recommend it. Sugar can cause health problems, including tooth decay. So this Halloween, make sure to have your toothbrush handy… tooth decay isn’t sweet!