Fructose the bad, the good and the best nutrition secrets.
How many health truisms do you hear on a weekly basis?
Drink lots of water.
Abs are made in the kitchen.
You are what you eat.
And one I find myself repeating frequently:
Sugar is a dangerous drug.
While our parents were more likely to be worried about fat, we’re all about limiting sugar.
Do you know anyone on the paleo diet?
I do, and I can tell you they are the preeminent sugar sleuths of the nutrition world.
They can spot it at fifteen paces.
They know what kind, what it does, where it’s hiding.
There’s a time and place for each tiny quantity of sugar they eat.
Sugar is simultaneously polarizing and misunderstood. This is because “sugar” is a shorthand blanket term which describes many kinds of sweeteners.
Today, we’re drilling down on one sugar: fructose. What are its nutrition secrets, where does it come from, and should you eat it?
The Scoop on Fructose (and Other Sugar Molecules)
Fructose is one of two kinds of simple sugars, alongside glucose.
Here’s what I mean…
These are “simple” sugars because they’re monosaccharides, which have a shorter structure.
Actually, there is a third simple sugar, galactose, but it’s typically seen in disaccharide formations with glucose.
When these two bond, they are lactose, which is milk sugar.
Polysaccharides and disaccharides contain longer configurations of these simple sugars.
Sucrose, which includes your average table sugar, is a disaccharide of fructose and glucose.
What does glucose do ?
Despite being the building blocks of most variations on sugar, glucose and fructose are quite different.
Glucose is our energy source; every cell in your body uses it, needs it. In fact, your body makes it, so eating or drinking it isn’t really necessary.
But wait, there’s more…
What about the difference between glucose and fructose?
Fructose vs glucose metabolism … Let me break this down for you here.
By contrast, fructose isn’t used by most of the body, and we don’t create it ourselves.
Its primary home is the liver, where, if we eat too much, it can undergo conversion into fat.
And here is where we begin hearing a lot of nasty things about fructose.
Excess consumption of fructose can lead to the following:
There are even studies that search to find a link between fructose and cancer.
As far as carbohydrates go, fructose really is the one that seems to lead straight to excess fat.
When you hear this, you can’t blame followers of a paleo diet for avoiding it like the plague. But as with most nutrition secrets, the source of the offending ingredient is key.
You see, there is natural fructose from fruits and vegetables, and then there is “synthetic” fructose.
To be clear, one is not really molecularly distinguishable from the other, but how it’s delivered makes the difference.
Surely, when you visited this article and saw the topic was on fructose, one phrase emerged: high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
Like fructose in fruits and vegetables, this fructose is a byproduct of glucose.
In this case, it’s made from corn, which doesn’t contain fructose until it undergoes the process.
It’s a topic many disagree on, but I believe there are three huge problems with high fructose corn syrup.
One is that its formulation is such that it goes straight to the liver.
HFCS contains glucose and fructose, but they’re not bound together.
One of the consequences of this is not just potential toxic overload to the liver, but damage to the lining of your gut.
Clearly, manufacturers could use other, higher-quality sweeteners, but they choose the cheap and potentially harmful one.
The second problem is one I see with a lot of other junk: empty calories.
We know that fructose isn’t essential to energy as glucose is, but it delivers a ton of calories.
…the third is that when we’re talking about HFCS, we focus in on the word “fructose”.
Really, the operative word here is “high”.
High amounts of fructose-rich corn syrup is dumped with reckless abandon into many unhealthy foods and drinks.
You can find it in just about every processed food and soft drink there is.
You’ll hear people say “sugar is sugar” and HFCS is “natural”, but this sickly concentrate of fructose is singularly bad.
If you ask me, that’s the only reason fructose is bad.
Food producers make a dense syrup of it and use far too much of it.
In fact, conversations about the less-healthy qualities of fructose weren’t a concern until mass food production.
High fructose corn syrup itself didn’t come into play until the 1960s.
In the 1950s, the average adult weighed about 25 pounds less. Between 1962 and 2006, obesity doubled.
I think not.
Part of our health epidemic is probably due to the exploitation of fructose, not its natural existence in plant foods.
In the end, fructose is part of a healthy diet.
That might seem a little crazy considering what we just learned.
But hear me out…
To reject fructose, we’d have to reject fruit.
And really, doesn’t that throw the whole anti-fructose argument out the window?
After all, whole fruits do not cause obesity and cancer.
On the contrary, they provide many vitamins and antioxidants we need for spectacular health.
Is Fruit Really Healthy?
Fruits are healthy foods, but some still avoid them because of fructose.
Even my good paleo friends concede that whole fruit fructose is healthier than HFCS.
Yet they still limit it for weight loss because selective breeding may be responsible for an increase in fructose.
Humans do influence how fruit “evolves.
The bottom line is that we need to make a clear distinction between added sugar and naturally-occurring sugar.
Foods with high fructose corn syrup will always be firmly in the “added” category.
Meanwhile, an apple containing natural (and lower) amounts of fructose is acceptable in terms of sugar content.
In fact, when the World Health Organization makes recommendations on sugar intake, they don’t count whole fruits.
They’re speaking strictly of added sugar and from-concentrate fruit derivatives.
This is crazy:
Why in the world would they do that, when an apple can contain 20 grams of sugar? That’s five whole teaspoons, and at least half of it is fructose.
Is it true?
The answer is that fruit contains much more than that of sugar.
The water and fiber content in a piece of fruit slow the delivery of the fructose to the liver.
Moreover, that fiber is more filling, so you won’t meet temptation to overeat, unlike other fructose sources.
That is a very important point in deciding whether or not to cut fructose out completely.
People who eat whole fruits tend to eat less, and weigh less as a result.
And what about more serious conditions associated with excess weight, like diabetes?
Well, according to this study, limiting fruit won’t help.
Patients who cut it out didn’t lose more weight or manage their condition any better than those who ate it.
Also surprising is another study.
It indicates that these low, natural amounts of fructose can actually be good for your blood sugar.
Fruit simply doesn’t spike your blood sugar the way a cup of cola would, even though both have fructose.
Even people who eat practically nothing but fruit don’t seem to suffer the ill health effects used to describe fructose.
Speaking of ill health effects, there are individuals who have problems digesting fructose, even from some fruits.
Excess fructose in the systems of these people will gather lots of water and ferment in the large intestine.
In these cases, fructose can cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea or constipation.
Therefore, fructose may be something to eliminate from your diet while you figure out what’s wrong with your digestion.
Among many cases of mysterious digestive ills, sometimes it’s gluten, sometimes it’s fructose, and sometimes it’s dairy.
You can also ask your doctor about a hydrogen breath test.
For the rest of us, we should use the same discretion with fructose that we do with fat.
French fries, avocados, cheeseburgers, and cashews are all fat sources.
But we’re well aware that avocados and cashews are the good kind of fat.
Fructose is the same.
You already know a pear is better than a candy bar, even though they both contain fructose. You can eat pears every day without gaining weight or suffering liver toxicity.
High-Fructose Foods to Avoid
As it pertains to added fructose, here are several items we could all stand to avoid.
Ditch these in favor of whole, unprocessed fruits and vegetables.
1. Soda. By far the worst when discussing fructose overload, soda will forever be the enemy of anyone dedicated to good nutrition.
The average 200 calories’ worth of soda carries more than 29,000 mg of added fructose.
Clear citrus sodas don’t fare much better at more than 28,000 mg.
By contrast, 200 calories worth of super sweet dates clock in at under 14,000 mg.
2. Flavored yogurt. It’s no secret that yogurt is a prime place for food manufacturers to add tons of sweeteners, artificial and otherwise.
Yogurt in different flavors (all of them sweet) can top out at 40 grams of sugar per serving!
And the overwhelming majority of this is added sugar, so you’re exceeding the daily recommendations with just one cup.
Instead, always buy plain Greek yogurt, and add your own fresh fruit to it.
3. Juices and canned fruits. Even juice that claims to be pure and natural often has more sugar (sometimes in the form of HFCS) added.
But what if there’s no added sugar?
Well, you’re still getting the fruit fructose. Except there’s much more, due to the fact that it can take several fruits to squeeze out a glass of juice.
Since juice is devoid of fiber, straight to the liver it goes.
Typically, having a glass of pure juice isn’t a problem.
But if you’re overweight, or suffer from inflammation-related conditions, skip it.
Fruit in a can often loses fructose during processing.
However, manufacturers add plenty of sugary fructose syrup in its stead. Therefore, avoid any fruit packed in syrup.
4. Breakfast cereal. Kids love it because it’s sweet, and that’s because of the addition of plenty of fructose.
Yet a high amount of fructose isn’t just something you’d find in a box of, say, Lucky Charms.
Take Raisin Bran for example, which we regard as a more healthful adult choice, contains more than 9,000 mg of fructose.
Well, that fiber should help right?
And the sugar is from raisins, isn’t it?
Sugar and HFCS are the fourth and fifth ingredients in Raisin Bran.
It just goes to show that when it comes to cereal, you can’t even trust the good guys.
5. Sauces and dressings. From pasta sauce to barbecue sauce and even vinaigrette dressing, extra fructose is added for flavor.
It’s not unusual for these to carry 10 grams and sometimes more of sugar that is not naturally occurring.
Your sauces and dressings shouldn’t contain more than a few grams of sugar.
The majority of that sugar should be from the fruits and vegetables it contains.
If you like it slightly sweet, add a touch of real honey, or a little bit of fresh citrus juice.
In addition, you should consider limiting the amount of dried fruit you eat, as these can contain added sugar.
Fiber helps offset natural fructose content, but you can’t expect it to compensate for the extra.
If you have fructose malabsorption, all of the above is off the menu for good.
But chances are, you can still eat some fruit.
Cantaloupe and strawberries are a few lower-fructose options that can help you get more vitamins and antioxidants without discomfort.
Those on the paleo diet still eat some fruit as well, but the absolute limit is three servings per day.
Many like to stick to one serving per day. Figs, berries, and even higher-fructose options like mango are common choices.
Okay… That’s all I have today on…
Fructose Nutrition Secrets
If you avoid HFCS in your diet, then you’re likely to be much happier with yourself for the choices you made.
A lot of secrets surrounding the healthiness of our food supply comes down to the phrase, “the poison makes the dose”.
Fructose is a natural simple sugar that you’ll find in many fruits and vegetables.
But when high quantities of concentrated fructose find their way into our food, we’re compromising our health.
By abstaining from products that contain added sugar and HFCS, we can:
- Lose weight and prevent overeating
- Protect the health of the liver
- Keep the lining of the gut healthy
- Control cholesterol and blood pressure
I want to know how you feel about fructose.
Do you think fruit makes you fat?
What’s the most surprising place you’ve found HFCS?
Let me know below, and I’ll be back soon.