What makes galactose a ‘healthy’ sugar?
Just like its sister sugar, glucose, galactose is a naturally-occurring chemical compound from the monosaccharide group. Both are valuable energy suppliers and the basic building blocks of animal and plant organisms. In contrast to glucose, galactose differs in its molecular structure due to a laterally-revised OH group. This difference is of decisive significance for the metabolism in the organism. In contrast to glucose, galactose enters the cell directly and stabilises the energy production there, without the intervention of insulin and the insulin receptors. Once in the cell, galactose is converted into glucose by the cell’s own enzymes.
Glucose is the only energy supplier for our central nervous system, in particular for the brain. Whilst other cells are able to organise their energy needs and cell renewal with amino-acids or fats, glucose is essential for the nervous system. The quantity of glucose in the individual’s own blood is not sufficient to meet the demand, and the shortfall has to be met by food intake. Glucose and galactose occur naturally mainly in milk and dairy products, but pulses and legumes also contain a relatively high proportion of galactose. Galactose is a well-tolerated food supplement. The correct dosage is the quantity which can be metabolised per day, and this can vary, depending on individual constitution and stress. It is only if the rare congenital metabolic disease, galactosemia, is present that galactose must not be consumed.
Galactose and diabetes
For people with diabetes, galactose opens a back-door due to the insulin-independent cellular uptake of galactose. Glucose has a glycaemic index of 100, whilst Galactose’s glycaemic index is 20 – this allows individuals to meet their glucose needs without major fluctuations in blood glucose and insulin. Galactose can also be used for obesity – with a sweetening power about half as strong as household sugar, it can, when used as a sweetener in coffee, tea and desserts, help people to get used to foods which are less sweet, thus sensibly supporting a diet.
Galactose and sport
Competitive athletes have long appreciated galactose as a food supplement, but galactose can have a supportive role to play in leisure sports, too. Muscles need energy, regardless of the type of sport and the associated strain. The main energy source is glucose, but this needs insulin to be able to enter the cells. During sport or training, ammonia is formed which leads to a drop in performance. Independent of insulin, galactose is able to enter the muscles directly, thus not only preventing severe fluctuations in blood sugar levels, but also aiding the removal of ammonia. Galactose therefore decisively strengthens the muscles’ performance. Furthermore, galactose leads to a better recovery, if taken after training.
Galactose in the therapy of illnesses and lactose intolerance
As an insulin-independent energy source, galactose supplies the brain and supports both concentration and memory. There are indications that, as with diabetes, as well as neuro-degenerative illnesses and depression, defective insulin receptors play an important role. Initial studies are showing positive effects, but systematic studies are still lacking.
In the case of lactose intolerance, galactose is a valuable sugar alternative for an even energy balance.