The suffix “ose” is used in biology to indicate a sugar, salt, protein, or fat. Let’s focus on the sugar piece. Multiple sugars are available from food. The overall goal is to get the sugars from their starting state to their smallest state for absorption via digestion. The smallest state for sugar is a monosaccharide. The three monosaccharides the body can absorb are glucose, fructose, and galactose.
The sweetest is fructose. You might think of fructose as fruit sugar, but fructose is also a very important part of the white sugar (sucrose) in your sugar canister. In fact, fructose is 50 percent of the sucrose. Fructose is also found in honey, and it is manipulated to make corn syrup sweeter as in high-fructose corn syrup.
Next is galactose. This sugar is one-half of the milk sugar lactose (glucose + galactose). Lactose-free milk and ice cream have been treated to separate the galactose from the glucose. Some medications use galactose as a filler. Galactose is 30 percent sweeter than sucrose, so it wouldn’t be a very good choice for cooking or baking.
Last but not least is glucose, the primary source of fuel for our bodies. Glucose is that stuff you learned about in basic biology. Carbon dioxide + water + sunlight make glucose and oxygen in plants. Glucose can also hang out solo, but it is mostly found paired with other monosaccharides to make either another sugar like sucrose, lactose, or maltose, or a complex carbohydrate like starch.
Glucose needs insulin to be able to get into our muscles to provide energy to do work. When glucose is linked with one of the other monosaccharides like fructose to form the white sugar used for baking, it has to have a special enzyme to split the link apart in the small intestine so the sugars will once again be ready for absorption. You may know someone who is lactose intolerant. This means they don’t have enough of the enzyme lactase in their small intestine to break up the lactose, causing gas and diarrhea.
Did you know that you can also be sucrose intolerant? That means that you do not have the enzymes needed to break down sucrose. Symptoms similar to those in lactose intolerance – gas, bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhea – are the result.