Fructose - a healthy sugar?
By Claudia Jones
Fructose is the sugar present in fruit, so it must be healthy. Right? We know that eating fruit is good for us and that fruits are a great source of vitamins and antioxidants, so how could fructose be anything but healthy? A few years ago we were being encouraged to use fructose to sweeten our drinks and cakes, now we are being informed that a high fructose intake may be extremely damaging to our health, contributing to an increased risk of coronary disease, stroke and diabetes while adding pounds to our waistline. So what is the problem with fructose?
Well, the issue is manifold:
Firstly, fructose does not cause the extremely high spike in blood sugar that glucose does and hence has been used in many 'healthy option' foods for diabetics. However, it is not only those suffering from diabetes that have been over exposed to fructose, the average person's diet (US) now contains around 19% fructose.
How did this happen?
Well it is really down to the food industry. These days High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) has been added to just about everything.
Not only is this product twice as sweet as sugar, it is also far cheaper and is metabolized by the body 40 times faster than glucose so we get hungrier sooner! This may be great for fast food sales but not such good news for our health.
Fructose is a sugar , a carbohydrate. However the body does not recognize it as such and treats it in the same way as it does alcohol, like a poison and a fat. When you drink a beer or a coca cola you have the same amount of calories reaching the liver, 30% of which will be stored as fat. Glucose on the other hand, is the sugar that your body utilizes for energy; this can be stored as glycogen in the liver without being turned into fat. So the more calories you consume in the form of fructose, the more likely you are to see an increase in your body weight, even if you are not overeating.
Fructose is known as a 'chronic' toxin but not an acute toxin and is therefore regarded as safe by the FDA. However, this does not mean that fructose isn't a poison. Fructose causes an increase in lactic acid levels in the blood which can be detrimental to those with pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes, it can even be fatal in some cases. Fructose also raises uric acid levels which can lead to an increase in blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and painful health conditions such as gout. A diet high in fructose has been linked to obesity and an increase in metabolic syndrome which increases your risk for developing coronary artery disease as it increases levels of LDL (bad cholesterol)in the body, and can cause liver inflammation, diabetes and strokes.
Dr Johnson, author of 'The Sugar Fix' tells us that fructose causes diabetes, whereas starch and glucose do not. In his animal research he discovered that animals fed starch or glucose remained skinny whereas animals fed sucrose or fructose developed metabolic syndrome.
If you are gaining extra weight around the middle of your body or showing signs of insulin resistance then you may be more at risk.
So how do we eat less fructose?
- Eliminate all processed foods. Be aware that HFCS is in just about everything, including sauces such as ketchup and ready-made salad dressings.
- Avoid all commercial soft drinks including juices.
- Take fresh fruit juices in moderation as they are very high in sugar, choose vegetable juices instead.
- Moderate your intake of dried fruits which are very high in fructose.
- Cut down on all sweet goods.
- Avoid table sugar and reduce all sweeteners. Be aware that honey and agave nectar are 60-70% fructose. It is also present in maple syrup, molasses and other naturally sweet foods.
So what should we eat?
- Fruit when eaten whole contains fiber, antioxidants and synergistic compounds that may reduce the detrimental effects of fructose. A normal intake of 2-4 fruits per day should be fine.
- Switch from sugar to stevia, a naturally sweet yet sugar-free herb, to sweeten drinks and cakes.
- Eat foods in their whole, natural form; grains, vegetables, fruits and legumes are full of fiber which helps to speed up the transit of foods through the intestines and also gives us the feeling of being satisfied sooner, helping to prevent overeating.
Research has shown that adopting a low fructose diet, either with or without the consumption of fruit has a remarkable effect on reducing symptoms of metabolic syndrome .
So by switching to a low fructose, whole foods, high fiber diet we may be doing a lot more than just preserving our waistline!
Claudia is the Wellness Director at Samahita Retreat. Claudia offers support and advice to guests on our detox programs and teaches detox & wellness retreats at Samahita Retreat throughout the year. For more information on Claudia's up and coming retreats.
References & Resources:
- Johnson, Richard Dr & Gower, Timothy, The Sugar Fix The High Fructose Fallout that is Making You Fat & Sick, Rodale, New York 2008
- Various articles on topic of fructose on www.mercola.com
- Lustig, Robert 'Sugar, The Bitter Truth' DVD