By Joan Kent

My last few posts have dealt with aspects of sugar addiction, including sugar”™s effect on health. It”™s important — you want to be healthy, right?

Still, I”™ve avoided one topic because it”™s almost guaranteed to alienate people — fructose. The sugar found in fruit. It”™s nasty. We”™ll get to the details on that soon enough.

Some people are surprised that fruit could be bad. After all, it”™s natural. And whenever people talk about healthful eating habits, it”™s one of the first things mentioned. “Eat lots of fruits and vegetables!” As if they”™re equal. Fruits even come first in that recommendation.

I might agree with the recommendation in part, but would suggest limiting fruit servings to 1 or 2 per day. A serving is half a cup, or a medium-size fruit. Not much fruit, compared with vegetables. (You can go crazy with those veggies.)

I”™ve always balked at “Five a day.” Once upon a time (pre-1991), the Basic Four Food Groups consisted of Meats, Milk Products, Grains, and FruitsandVegetables. The original 1991 Food Guide Pyramid was developed to give us a better idea of the relative proportions to eat. The second tier from the bottom was divided unevenly, into 2-4 fruit servings and 3-5 vegetable servings. Apparently, that was too nuanced, too specific. And so the slogan “Five a day” was coined, referring to the minimum number of servings of each and blending them back together, as in the Basic Four.

(I can”™t even count the clients I”™ve had who were more than happy to get their 5 a day from fruit and skip those pesky vegetables altogether. But I digress.)

The fructose takeover in beverages and prepared foods was designed to cash in on the lower cost of fructose, and the image it had as a “healthy sugar”. Sucrose (granulated table sugar) was seen as unhealthful. Yet fructose has negative health implications, some more serious than others. All of them contribute to a negative picture overall.

What does fructose do that”™s bad for our health?

It”™s cariogenic, so it causes cavities. It triggers sugar cravings in susceptible people.

It”™s frequently malabsorbed, leading to abdominal complaints (bloating, flatulence, diarrhea). Many people are unable to completely absorb fructose in the amounts commonly found in high-fructose corn syrup products.

Due to rapid utilization by the liver, fructose has multiple metabolic effects. Long-term fructose use can lead to high triglycerides, an independent risk factor for heart disease.

Fructose can also decrease glucose tolerance and raise insulin levels. (If that sounds as if it could lead to insulin resistance and diabetes, you”™re right.)

Whether people start with triglyceride issues or not, these changes are the expected results of increased fructose. People who respond to fructose normally show these changes at intakes of around 20% of total calories. Carbohydrate-sensitive people can show these negative responses to as little fructose as 7% of total calories.

Carbohydrate sensitivity is defined as exaggerated insulin secretion to sucrose, but fructose and other carbs can trigger the high insulin, as well.

Sucrose can cause many of these same effects. Sucrose is a disaccharide, half glucose and half fructose. ALL of these sucrose problems are attributed to the fructose in it, not the glucose. And no debate on this exists in the science journals.

So everyone agrees that fructose is what makes sucrose the junk that it is.

Fructose is ineffective as a pre- or post-workout fuel, and it actually does even more health damage than the stuff I”™ve listed above. For example, both fructose and the sweetener sorbitol (converted to fructose in the liver) accumulate in the lens of the eye in diabetics, causing osmotic damage.

Let”™s end instead by pointing out that even trending sugars can be junk. That includes agave, maple syrup, dates, and acai berries.

Getting away from fructose is a wise and healthful course of action. Because it may be difficult, though, cutting back on fructose could be seen as the final frontier in conquering sugar addiction.


Joan Kent

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