Food Sugars and Blood Sugar: The Problem of Diabetes

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Some foods rich in sugars can contribute to the disruption of the body’s system for controlling its own sugar levels. Glucose is the body’s primary form of chemical energy, so it’s distributed to all cells via the blood. On the other hand, glucose is a reactive molecule, and excess quantities can damage the circulatory system, eyes, kidneys, and nervous system. So the body tightly regulates blood glucose levels, and does so with the hormone insulin. Diabetes is a disease in which the insulin system is unable to control blood glucose adequately. And a high intake of some food sugars overloads the blood with glucose and puts stress on the insulin system. This is dangerous for people who suffer from diabetes. The foods that raise blood glucose levels the most are foods rich in glucose itself, including such starchy foods as potatoes and rice that our enzymes digest into glucose. Table sugar, a combination of glucose and fructose, has a somewhat smaller effect, and fructose itself has a much smaller effect, since it must be metabolized in the liver before the body can use it for energy. One valuable property of many sugar substitutes is that they do not raise blood sugar levels.