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Disaccharides - A definition and examples

Disaccharides are found among a variety of common foods we consume on a daily basis. Often referred to as ‘double sugars’, disaccharides are created when two small sugar molecules (called monosaccharides) bond together to form a larger disaccharide. For example, when glucose and fructose are bonded, this creates sucrose.

Likewise when glucose and galactose are bonded, this creates lactose. The disaccharides people will be most familiar with are sucrose, maltose and lactose. 

What function do disaccharides serve in the body?

Disaccharides act as an energy source for the body, just like any other carbohydrate. When we eat foods that contain disaccharides, our bodies break them down into simple sugars (monosaccharides) for absorption in the small intestine. 

Note: for more information about how disaccharides are absorbed by the body please feel free to read our page Digestion, absorption and transport of carbohydrates.

What everyday foods contain disaccharides? 

The disaccharides we usually come across in everyday foods are sucrose, maltose and lactose. There are other lesser known types of disaccharides however, these aren’t readily available in the foods we eat and require an artificial method to be produced. 

Foods that contain the disaccharide sucrose

One of the most common disaccharides – sucrose, otherwise known as table sugar, is present in a wide array of foods including:-

  • Maple syrup
  • Fondant
  • Cakes
  • Ice cream
  • Chocolate
  • Some salad dressings
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Sweet potato
  • Carrots
  • Mangos
  • Watermelon
  • Oranges
  • Peaches

For more information about sucrose please feel free to visit our What is sucrose? page.

Foods that contain the disaccharide maltose

Typically if you look at the ingredients of the foods you eat and they contain anything with ‘malt’ in it, there’s a good chance it will have maltose as one of the ingredients. There are many foods that contain maltose including:-

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Beer
  • Spelt
  • Glucose syrup
  • Muesli bars
  • Crumpets
  • Instant coffee
  • Honey
  • Filo pastry
  • White flour
  • Sausage rolls

For more information about natural foods that contain maltose, please feel free to visit our Natural sources of maltose page. 

Foods that contain the disaccharide lactose

Most dairy foods we eat will contain varying amounts of lactose. This is why some lactose intolerant people can have small amounts of things like hard cheese as they contain less lactose than other dairy products like milk. Other foods like bread have small amounts of lactose as an ingredient. Foods that contain lactose include:-

  • Milk
  • Bread
  • Pancakes
  • Cookies
  • Cakes
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Instant potatoes
  • Soups
  • Salad dressings
  • Margarine
  • Chips
  • Bacon
  • Sausage
  • Lunch meats
  • Protein powders
  • Coffee creamers and powdered milks

 

References 

Food Standards Australia New Zealand. Food Composition Database – Release 1.0. https://www.foodstandards.gov.au/science/monitoringnutrients/afcd/pages/default.aspx

https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/lactose-intolerance/eating-diet-nutrition

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