Although glucose is very important for our body to function normally, it is needed in moderate amounts. When glucose levels are too high or out of control, we can have serious health problems.
Glucose is a monosaccharide containing 6 carbon atoms. It is a form of sugar and It is one of the most abundant organic compounds on Earth.
One of its main functions for humans is to be a source of energy for all the cells in the body. Sugars are needed for many of our organs, such as the brain and other tissues. Along with lipids, glucose is one of the main energy substances.
glucose and sugar is not the same thing
These are two compounds that we must not confuse. Sugar (sucrose) is another chemical compound made up of glucose molecules and fructose molecules.
Although after its breakdown the body assimilates glucose, sugar is not needed in our diet. What the body needs to function is glucose. And, as we will see later, this can come from other sources.
Main sources of glucose
The way we normally ingest glucose is through carbohydrates and sugar. The most common are bread, pasta, rice, vegetables, fruit and dairy products.
All carbohydrates end up supplying glucose to our body when they are broken down. The one exception is fiber. Not having the proper enzymes to break it down, it passes intact through the digestive tract until it reaches the colon. There our intestinal bacteria will take care of digesting it.
However, it should be noted that the body also has other pathways for energyin the absence of carbohydrates. From fats and proteins, other metabolic pathways are activated, and the body also assimilates glucose.
How the body processes glucose
When we eat foods rich in carbohydrates, their digestion begins. From the mouth to the small intestine, and thanks to the enzymes, digestive juices and movements of the digestive system, break down complex carbohydrates into glucose.
Glucose molecules pass into the small intestine. But from there they can’t be used by our cells yet.
Once in the small intestine, they pass into the blood. This is where the pancreas and insulin come into play. When the brain detects glucose in the blood, it sends a signal to the endocrine gland to secrete insulin. In normal situations, the pancreas automatically secretes the necessary insulin everytime.
We could say that insulin is like the key that opens the cell door so that glucose can enter. Once inside the cell, it can already be used as an energy source.
Absorption differences depending on the source
Although both sugar and carbohydrates end up supplying the body with energy, the assimilation of glucose in the body is not the same when we eat one or the other.
Some foods are basically high in simple sugar: honey, table sugar, syrups, sodas or fruit juices. Being digested quickly, glucose also reaches the blood faster, resulting in blood glucose spikes. In response, the pancreas also secretes more insulin, which will be more abundant in the blood.
One consequence of this answer is that after the action of insulin, there is a rapid drop in blood sugargive way to a hypoglycemia. This can give us a feeling of hunger, dizziness, double or blurred vision and headaches.
Instead, when we eat foods rich in complex carbohydrates (wholemeal and rich in fiber) glucose in the body is assimilated in a different way: it is slower and more progressive. As a result, insulin also appears more steadily. Blood sugar remains constant and for a longer time and we avoid sudden peaks of increase and lack of energy.
Health consequences of simple sugars
We have already seen that the consumption of foods rich in simple sugars causes insulin and blood sugar spikes. Continuously, this generates a greater risk of suffering from pathologies such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure metabolic syndrome.
Moreover, there is a risk that our pancreas will end up not functioning normally, or that our cells generate resistance to insulin. If this happens, your blood sugar will be continuously elevated, what we know as diabetes.
The body needs good glucose
As we’ve seen, rapid assimilation can cause sudden ups and downs in energy throughout the day. And in the long run, problems with insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes.
The best way to avoid this is to eat fresh foods rich in complex carbohydrates.: fruits and vegetables, whole grains, tubers and dairy products.
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