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What Kind of Sugar Is in Sugar Cane?

author image Dr. Tina M. St. John
Tina M. St. John runs a health communications and consulting firm. She is also an author and editor, and was formerly a senior medical officer with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. St. John holds an M.D. from Emory University School of Medicine.
What Kind of Sugar Is in Sugar Cane?
Close-up of sugar cane plants. Photo Credit Herianus/iStock/Getty Images

Sugar cane is the primary agricultural source of sugar worldwide. The stalk of the sugar cane plant contains a high concentration of sucrose, which is refined into various sugar products. Global sugar production was estimated at nearly 350 billion pounds in 2008-2009, according to the Egyptian Center for Studies of Export & Import.

Harvesting Sugar From Sugar Cane

The sugar cane plant, Saccharum officinarum, is a variety of tall grass that grows in tropical environments throughout the world. The leaves of the plant absorb energy from the sun and produce sucrose from carbon dioxide and water. The stalk of the plant is harvested and processed to isolate and purify the sugar. Sugar cane processing yields several sucrose products, including white and brown granulated sugar, liquid sucrose, liquid invert sugar and molasses. The primary differences in these products are the level of impurities and whether the sucrose is in liquid or crystalline form.

Sucrose in Food

Even if you don't have a sweet tooth, sucrose is probably a significant component of your diet. Dairy products, cereals, baked goods and many other processed foods contain added sugar, much of it as sucrose. On average, Americans consume a half-cup of sugar daily, according to the national nutritional survey NHANES 2007-2008. This equates to approximately 385 calories from sugar in your diet each day.

Sucrose Digestion

Sucrose is a disaccharide, meaning it consists of two sugar molecules bound together. Glucose and fructose are the simple sugars that make up sucrose. The breakdown of sucrose into its constituent sugars begins in your stomach, through the action of stomach acid. Most of the digestion of sucrose, however, occurs in your small intestine. The cells there produce the enzyme sucrase, which breaks the chemical bond between glucose and fructose. Once this bond is broken, free fructose and glucose molecules are absorbed into your bloodstream.

Sucrose Metabolism

Your body metabolizes the glucose and fructose from sugar cane-derived sucrose differently. Your cells use glucose as the primary fuel for energy production. Two different cellular processes produce energy from glucose. Aerobic glucose metabolism requires oxygen and is the most efficient mechanism your body has to produce energy. Anaerobic glucose metabolism occurs without oxygen but produces less energy than aerobic metabolism. Glucose not immediately needed for energy production is stored in your liver and muscles or converted into fat.
Your body cannot use fructose directly. Your liver must first convert it into the metabolic intermediate fructose-1-phosphate, which enters into the chemical process for energy production, if needed. If your body's energy needs are met, fructose-1-phosphate is routed for fat production.

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