Let’s talk about sugars! Not the chocolate-chip-double fudge-ice cream sundae kind of sugar, but the sugars that keep our bodies functioning on the deep, basic cell level. While a lot of this information sounds scientific and may seem hard to remember, what’s most important is knowing which foods offer these sugars to our bodies so you can be sure to include those foods in your diet.
The essential sugars are the glyconutrients that we get from nutritious uncooked fruits and vegetables. They are also known as biological sugars, saccharides, and monosaccharides. Glyconutrients are part of an even broader category known as nutraceuticals. The words nutrition and pharmaceuticals are combined in this word because they are food-based substances that have a pharmacological effect on the body.
The eight essential sugars are actually necessary for our health and proper cell functioning. All eight of them are required for our cells to interact and function properly. After being processed by our digestive system, these sugars are transformed into glycoproteins and glycolipids.
Glycoproteins are molecules made of sugars and proteins found coating the surface of every cell in the human body that contains a nucleus. Glycolipids are molecules made of sugars and fats. Lipids is often a term used to refer to fat cells. Glycoproteins and glycolipids are essential for our cell structure. They facilitate the formation of tiny antennae on the cellular wall.
These antennae allow the cells to interact, and to be able to absorb and process nutrients, enzymes, hormones, and other chemicals. This type of functioning is at the heart of our immune system and allows for healing to occur in a wide variety of conditions from skin conditions to bacterial infections, as well as arteriosclerosis, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease. Extensive research is ongoing, and many studies have been published about the structure and content of glycoproteins and glycolipids found on the surface of cells.
The Eight Glyconutrients
1. Glucose is a simple monosaccharide and one of the most widely available of all the essential sugars. It is paired with fructose in common table sugar (sucrose), which is a disaccaride. Glucose is a primary energy source for all plants and animals and is absorbed into the bloodstream quickly. Very few people are deficient in glucose due to it’s high usage in processed foods. Too much glucose raises insulin levels and, with unchecked consumption, can lead to obesity and diabetes. When glucose is processed into table sugar nutrients and fiber are completely stripped away. This causes the absorption period to be greatly reduced taxing the liver so that it must store most of the energy as fat. Healthier forms of glucose can be obtained from all veggies, certain fruits such as grapes, bananas, cherries, strawberries, mangoes, aloe vera, seaweed, kelp, honey, licorice herb, sarsaparilla, garlic, hawthorn, echinacea, and cocoa, and even some herbs and of course honey.
2. Galactose is consumed predominantly from dairy products in most westernized cultures. When combined with glucose, it forms lactose, a disaccharide, which is the sugar that comprises around 5% of the solids in dairy products. People who are lactose intolerant may be lacking in this essential sugar. Galactose is readily available in a wide variety of healthier options such as fruits and vegetables, and even in some herbs, but it is difficult to obtain a sufficient amount of it if the food has been processed (packaged), green harvested (picked before ripe), and cooking at high temperatures. Excellent sources include blackberries, apples, cranberries, mango, oranges, plums, echinacea, fenugreek, chestnuts, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, avocado, carrots, celery, leeks, green beans, onions, spinach, and pumpkin.
3. Fucose is only found in great quantities in human breast milk, sea kelp, brewer’s yeast, and certain types of mushrooms. Studies have indicated that it may help long term memory, prevent respiratory infections, and inhibit tumor growth. It is known that the glycoproteins and glycolipids from fucose are essential to controlling inflammation and enhancing the immune system.
4. Mannose was the first essential glyconutrient identified. It appears to be the foundation of all the essential sugars, so much so that it is an integral part of the immune system. A deficiency in mannose can lead to inflammation and disease. It is absorbed at a much slower rate than glucose, and goes to the bloodstream directly from the upper gastrointestinal tract. Mannose is one of the easier essential sugars to obtain in our diets. One of the main sources is aloe vera, and other sources include sea kelp, green beans, capsicum (the hot stuff in cayenne or jalapeno peppers), cabbage, eggplant, tomatoes, currants, turnips, and Shiitake mushrooms.
5. Glucosamine is a well known glyconutrient that has benefits in joint health, shown to improve osteoarthritis and is a precursor to cartilage. It is readily available though insects and the shells of crustaceans such as shrimp and crabs. A much easier source to obtain it from than eating insects and difficult to chew crustaceans would be mushrooms such as Shiitakes. While some of the ingested glucosamine is oxidized, the remainder is converted into glycoproteins and glycolipids. The key to note here is that the human body can make glucosamine if given the right building blocks. Replacing nutrients that are supposed to be secreted by the body can disrupt natural body processes, creating imbalance in the body and causing dependence. Eating plenty of natural plant sources of glucose and, the amino acid, glutamine will provide your body what it needs to make glucosamine (parsley, spinach, brown algaes, and the red algae called Dumontiaceae). Glucosamine is ten times more potent than regular glucose in causing insulin resistance in animals. But be careful, high doses or prolonged use of glucosamine causes the death of pancreatic cells and could increase the risk of developing diabetes, according to scientific research.
6. Galactosamine is the least known essential sugars even though it is just as critical for cell to cell communication as the other seven. It is an important part of joint health, as well as being necessary for systemic functions used in the regulation of inflammation and normal operation of the immune system. It has been found that people with cardiovascular disease are shown to have lower levels of this glyconutrient. It too is found in shark cartilage and the shells of crustaceans but a better source is red algae called Dumontiaceae, which can be taken in capsule form.
7. Neuraminic Acid has been found to be important in brain function, particularly for development and learning. Studies have also shown it to be linked to memory and performance as well as an important immune system facilitator. It is found in breast milk, organic hen’s eggs, whey protein (non-powdered form).
8. Xylose has been shown in research studies to be a key contributor to the prevention of cancer in the
digestive tract. Xylose is found in many fruits and vegetables including guava, pears, raspberries, blackberries, sea kelp, aloe vera, broccoli, spinach, eggplant, peas and green beans.
Do beware the green harvested produce. When fruits and vegetables are picked green, they lack many necessary vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, enzymes, and glyconutrients. Without a steady supply of uncontaminated, ripe harvested fruits and vegetables, our intake of these nutrients is most likely limited.
Do be cautious about eating too many high fructose fruits and stay within 15 g of fructose per day. The amount of high concentrate fruit juices can provide our bodies with too high a concentration at one time, leaving the liver to process the sugars it cannot convert to energy into fat. Juices with high fructose corn syrup, HFCS, as an ingredient should be avoided completely.
Although the first two essential sugars listed above are readily available in our daily diets, the others are not. This is why proper planning of the consumption of a wide variety of plant based foods and sea vegetables is important as well as minimal supplementation of these nutrients is recommended. As it happens, an excellent source of these essential sugars is the sea kelp known as Limu Moui, which has the powerful active component, Fuccoidan, that is proving to be a powerful anticancer nutrient.
- Shittake mushroom image courtesy of http://www.absstyle.com/blog/7-food-didnt-know-will-whiten-teeth/
- Aloe Vera image courtesy of offthegridnews.com