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What Are the Differences between Monosaccharides and Disaccharides?

Shelby Miller
Shelby Miller

Monosaccharides and disaccharides are the two kinds of simple sugars, a form of carbohydrate. In contrast to polysaccharides, which contain three or more sugars and are also known as complex carbohydrates, monosaccharides and disaccharides contain one and two sugars, respectively. Monosaccharides include glucose, fructose, and galactose. Disaccharides, by contrast, include sucrose, lactose, and maltose, and these are made up of two monosaccharides bonded together, such as glucose and fructose or even glucose with glucose. Monosaccharides require the least effort by the body to break down and therefore are digested and subsequently available for energy more quickly than disaccharides.

Carbohydrates are the body’s most immediately available source of energy, the source it relies upon for everything from getting through a workout to fueling the brain. The more complex the carbohydrate — that is, the more sugars it contains — the longer it takes to be broken down in the intestines to its simplest components, monosaccharides and disaccharides. Glucose, a form of monosaccharide, is the body’s preferred energy source, and it is also known as blood sugar. Most carbohydrates, whether disaccharides or polysaccharides, end up in glucose form once broken down in the digestive tract. In other words, a major difference between monosaccharides and disaccharides is that monosaccharides are used immediately for energy, whereas disaccharides must be converted into their monosaccharide components before they are of use to the body.

Sugar cane contains disaccharides.
Sugar cane contains disaccharides.

The foods from which monosaccharides and disaccharides like fructose and sucrose are derived for commercial purposes is another difference between the two. Glucose is found in a large number of living organisms, from plants, to insects, to humans. In commercial food production, however, fructose tends to be the preferred sweetener, as it is sweeter than table sugar and can be made cheaply from corn. High fructose corn syrup, for instance, is a fructose sweetener derived from corn that is found in many sweet foods and beverages like baked goods and soda.

Fresh sugar beets are whitish roots that look slightly similar to turnips.
Fresh sugar beets are whitish roots that look slightly similar to turnips.

Disaccharides are obtained from a variety of plant and animal sources, sources that naturally contain a combination of monosaccharides. Sucrose, the scientific name for table sugar, is a disaccharide that contains both glucose and fructose. It is typically derived from the sugar cane or sugar beet plants, both of which are vegetables. Lactose, another disaccharide, comes not from plants but from animals as it is the type of sugar found in milk and other dairy products. It is made up of glucose combined with galactose.

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Discussion Comments


@MrsWinslow - Good luck with your baby dreams! I hope that getting healthy will pay off in the way you are wishing for.

It's interesting what you said about white potatoes being associated with ovulatory infertility. I read recently that they are also the #1 food associated with weight gain over the years! And not just French fries; they were the worst offenders, but even boiled and baked potatoes were linked to weight gain.

Other simple carbs were also associated with weight gain. I've been trying to cut back on them, too. I'll never totally eliminate sugar from my diet, but I'm trying to make it more of a special occasion thing. I think my taste buds are slowly being reprogrammed to not expect so much sweetness.


I think it's one of the great ironies that glucose is our bodies' natural fuel; the basic function of monosaccharides is to provide fuel for living cells. But actually *eating* the simplest of sugars seems to be pretty deadly!

More and more evidence seems to be mounting that while fats, even saturated fats and (the good kind) of cholesterol may not be as harmful as we thought, refined carbs may be more dangerous than anyone realized.

I've been trying to get healthy so that I can get pregnant (I am overweight and have polycystic ovarian syndrome - PCOS). I read a while back that some foods can really affect your fertility, which was a new idea for me. For instance, whole dairy products, like whole milk and even a little ice cream, were found to be beneficial to ovulatory fertility. (Other causes of infertility, like blocked Fallopian tubes, won't respond to these dietary changes.)

Meat was found to be harmful to ovulatory fertility, and plant protein was beneficial. But the biggest thing that was bad for your ovulatory fertility was refined or simple carbohydrates! In fact, the #1 food associated with ovulatory infertility was white potatoes. I've tried to cut these foods out of my diet as much as possible and I'm already feeling better.

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    • Sugar cane contains disaccharides.
      Sugar cane contains disaccharides.
    • Fresh sugar beets are whitish roots that look slightly similar to turnips.
      By: alukards
      Fresh sugar beets are whitish roots that look slightly similar to turnips.
    • Monosaccharides may lead to a faster spike in blood sugar in diabetics than disaccharides.
      By: praisaeng
      Monosaccharides may lead to a faster spike in blood sugar in diabetics than disaccharides.