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Essential sugars, or ‘good sugars’ as they are also known, are the glyconutrients that we get from nutritious fruits and vegetables.
They are also known as Biological Sugars, Saccharides, and Mono-saccharides.
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.
There are actually eight essential sugars needed for proper cell functioning. All of them are required for our cells to interact and function properly.
How is this so when we known sugar isn’t so good for us?
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 diseases.
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 (the problem child)
Glucose is a simple Mono-saccharide, 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, and are MOST often getting TOO much of it, due to it’s high usage in processed foods.
Too much Glucose, so easy to come by in our typical daily diets raises insulin levels and with unchecked consumption, can lead to obesity and diabetes.
More recent studies have even indicated a link between the levels of sugar in the blood and the deterioration of the size of our brains’ memory centers, leading to precursors to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
When Glucose is processed into table sugar, nutrients and the fiber are completely stripped away. This causes the absorption period to be greatly reduced, taxing the liver so that it store most of the energy as fat.
Healthier forms of Glucose can be obtained from certain fruits such as grapes, bananas, cherries, strawberries, mangoes, as well as Aloe Vera, seaweed, kelp, honey, licorice herb, sasparilla, garlic, hawthorn, echinacea, and cocoa.
Galactose is found predominantly in diary products. 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 fruits and vegetables, and even in some herbs, but it is difficult to obtain a sufficient amount of it due to food processing, green harvesting, and cooking at high temperatures.
Fucose is only found in great quantities in human breast milk, sea kelp, brewers yeast, and is also found in 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.
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.
Its deficiency 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 the Aloe Vera, and other sources include sea kelp, green beans, capsicum (the hot stuff in cayenne or jalapeno peppers for example), cabbage, eggplant, tomatos, currants, turnips, and Shittake mushrooms.
This 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 shark cartilage, and the shells of crustations such as shrimp and crabs.
While some of the ingested glucosamine is oxidized, the remainder is converted into glycoproteins and glycolipids.
One is the least known essential sugars is Galactosamine, although 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 crustations, as well as red algae.
7) Neuraminic Acid
This glyconutrient 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
This last essential sugar is not the least important. It 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.
Find Your Glyconutrients!
If you eat plenty of unprocessed fruits and vegetables, you are probably supplying your body with some of the essential glyconutrients.
But 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. And we should 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.
And, 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 supplementation of these nutrients is often recommended.