A disaccharide can be defined as 2 monosaccharides that are linked together. There are 3 common disaccharides present in foods that we consume everyday and they are maltose, lactose and sucrose.
Disaccharides can be accurately described as an energy source as a good number of them provide approximately 4 calories (kilocalories) in a single gram. However, it is important to note that disaccharides such as lactose are non-essential nutrients. This implies that they are not important for the health or even the life of a human being.
Primary disaccharides are basically simple sugars such as sucrose (glucose + fructose), lactose (glucose + galactose) and maltose (glucose + glucose). Disaccharides such as lactose need some digestion to break them down to two 1-sugar units to facilitate absorption.
How Disaccharides Work In the Body
When lactose is consumed in the human body, it is broken down into galactose and glucose by the lactase enzyme. These small sugars are then absorbed into the bloodstream from where they are absorbed by body cells to be used as energy.
However, it should be noted that lactose disaccharides do not serve cellular functions that are unique and can therefore be successfully replaced by other carbohydrates for energy production.
Benefits of Disaccharides
Disaccharides (lactose) is associated with a number of benefits, the notable ones include the ones listed below:
Lactose is a beneficial component of milk as it lacks fructose but is instead made of galactose. This means it is a disaccharide sugar that is healthy to the human body. This is because lactose is made of glucose and galactose and the human body requires galactose to function well.
Galactose in lactose has been identified as one of the eight essential sugars required in the human diet to facilitate proper development of cells, as well as functioning of the human body.
Galactose is known to directly contribute to the vital information and even control various processes in the body. It is a structural and fundamental substance for cells, intracellular matrix and cell walls.
This means that the body’s immune system would not be able to function without galactose as it would be unable to differentiate between the good and bad cells making it vulnerable to attack.
Galactose in lactose provides support to brain development in both babies and young children. It also prevents the growth and spreading of tumors. Galactose promotes healing of wounds, enhances cellular communication, decreases inflammation, as well as increases the absorption of calcium. Sufficient quantities of galactose provide protection against developing cataracts and exposure to X-ray radiation.
Lactose Is A Natural Low Calorie Sweetener
Lactose is a natural sugar with a low amount of calories which is better when compared to the numerous low-calorie artificial sweeteners that are known for their detrimental effects to the human body.
Furthermore, lactose is less sweet compared to other sugars but provides more energy in comparison to granulated sugars. Lactose has metabolic effects that are less significant compared to other sugars.
Sugars are usually compared by how quickly they can cause blood sugar to rise (Glycemic Index). Lactose has a Glycemic Index number of 45 compared to 100 for glucose. This means that lactose is the ideal sugar for individuals who have been diagnosed with diabetes as its impact on blood sugar is insignificant. It also means that lactose has a low probability of causing an array of health complications which are characteristic of other sugars.
Lactose Is An Effective Prebiotic
Probiotics also known as good bacteria are essential to a healthy life. However, prebiotics can be defined as food components that are indigestible and have a beneficial effect on the human body as they stimulate the growth as well as the well-being of bacteria present in the intestine. This is because there are strains of bacteria that consume some types of prebiotics as sources of energy.
The human body manufactures lactase enzyme so as to break down lactose in the digestive system. The body’s ability to produce lactase significantly decreases with age. If the body fails to break down the lactose going through the digestive system, good bacteria use the indigested sugar as energy for growth and to flourish.
All in all, lactose can assist in establishing and maintaining a healthy micro flora in your gut. Bacteria in the gut can provide the human body with several health benefits such as manufacturing vitamins and producing several other useful compounds for the body.
Risks & Side Effects
Lactose, a natural sugar in milk as well as other dairy products is associated with a number of side effects. The main ones include the ones outlined below:
This condition can be defined as the presence of gas in the digestive tract and is likely to occur if bacteria inside the large intestine break down foods that are undigested.
The low levels of the enzyme lactase as a result of lactose ingestion enhance the quantity of undigested sugars in the body. This is what results in flatulence that is characterized by gas expulsion via the rectum.
This side effect is common with people who have intolerance for lactose. It is basically a sensation with an urge to vomit, an action that rids the body of the specific substance that is causing irritation.
This side effect is as a result of lactose ingestion. Physicians describe malnutrition as a condition that impacts physical and mental health. Malnutrition can result in immune deficiency, bone and muscle weakness, bleeding and swollen gums, dizziness, fatigue and weight loss.
Top Disaccharides Food Sources
There are several top products or food sources that contain the disaccharide lactose, which include milk, milk products, cream sauces, cream soups, custards, puddings, butter, cheese, coffee creamer, whipping cream, sherbet, ice milk, ice cream and milk shakes.
Most people are usually of the opinion that lactose is a negative component of milk. The above insightful information has indicated otherwise as lactose has many health benefits. Lactose is healthier than most sugars as it a low-calorie natural sweetener and has a unique prebiotic effect on bacteria in the gut among many others.
Furthermore, it does not make any sense for nature to have designed milk with a harmful component in it as it is meant to support a healthy life for offspring of mammals.