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Is Fructose Good or Bad for You?



Photo Credit: Adam Engelhart, 2006 – Sugar:

Sigrid de Castella – ‘Half the Woman I Was’ Author, Speaker and Health and Business Coach

I have a sweet tooth. Oh boy, do I have a sweet tooth. It’s got me in trouble on more than one, okay, I confess, many occasions. Having quit refined sugars, I’ve had to look for alternatives. Thus, this got me thinking about fructose as a replacement sugar and whether it is good or bad?

What is Fructose?

Fructose is a plant sugar, a simple carbohydrate found in fruit and vegetables. Yep, that’s right it’s found in vegetables too. In fact, vegetables with the highest levels of fructose include green beans, asparagus, leek and onion. However, virtually all vegetables contain some fructose.

But it’s fruit, combined with additionally high glucose, that really takes the cake. Star fruit is the worst culprit containing 8% fructose and a massive 7% glucose – that’s 15% sugar. Other high-fructose fruits are those you’d suspect due to their sweetness – apples, kiwi, bananas, mangoes, oranges, pineapple and stone fruits. You can check the fructose and glucose levels of foods here.

How is Fructose Different to Sugar?

Fructose is a form of sugar, don’t be fooled into thinking otherwise. Fructose only differs from refined table sugar, which is sucrose made from the sugar cane plant, in that sucrose is 50% fructose and 50% glucose. Fructose is, well, 100% fructose sugar. The difference is it’s metabolised slightly differently by the body, which we’ll get to later.

But what’s causing outrage and concern is the refined version of fructose and other sugars found in packaged products and take away foods. To get an idea of what these foods contain, look at an ingredient label on a packaged product. You’ll typically find that these foods contain fructose, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, high fructose corn syrup, corn sweetener, glucose, anhydrous dextrose, maltose, cane juice, dehydrated cane juice, evaporated cane juice, cane crystals – these are all the culprits of ill-health and obesity. These sugars are concentrated and devoid of any nutritional counterparts such as fibre. Plus, they are added unwittingly to our convenience foods to make them more ‘palatable’.

And let’s not forget flour: corn, wheat, rice, maize, tapioca, and coconut, which are added as fillers and binders to our packaged and processed foods, all of which contain sugar and simple carbohydrates, whilst which then convert to sugar very quickly once eaten.

This means we’re eating more sugar than ever before in the history of humanity. Therefore, it’s no wonder that we’re not healthy.

So, are you feeling sick yet?

How is Fructose Metabolised?

According to research while glucose is metabolised ‘widely’ in the body, fructose is almost solely metabolised in the liver. So eating high amounts of fructose not only means you’re eating high amounts of sugar, but it’s putting a serious load on your liver – often the very thing you’re trying to detox.

Fructose is also serious stuff for those suffering fructose malabsorption or FODMAP (Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides and Polyols) where the short chain carbohydrates including fructose cannot be digested properly due to deficient fructose carriers in the small intestine’s enterocytes. This results in indigestion, excessive flatulence, bloating and distension, fatigue and impaired brain function.

And it’s the volume of all sugars combined that now adds up to alarming amounts in almost all diets. So switching to a non-refined fructose diet is not the panacea. But it can be easily the first important first stepping stone to changing to a no added sugar, of any kind, diet.

How Much Sugar is Enough?

Harvard Health Publications recently reported that a number of studies indicate why we should limit our sugar intake to around 10% of our daily calories. More simply, men should eat no more than the equivalent of 9 teaspoons of sugar, while women should aim for 6. That’s 45g for men and 30g for women. Which means 200g of Star Fruit equals the daily allowance for women – so, no tea, no coffee, no lattes. Frightening, eh?

Why Do We Crave Sugar?

It’s been well reported that sugar is actually more addictive than heroin or cocaine? In fact studies, including those by Dr Mark Hymon, have shown it’s up to eight times as addictive. So it’s no wonder affluent western countries are turning into obese nations – it’s a true epidemic, and it’s happening right now without any sign of reversal.

Just like any drug, cravings for sugar (insert your favourite ‘ose’ here) require more and more of it to sate our appetite for this modern day heroin. And it’s contributing to a plethora of diseases like obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.


Photo Credit: Jeanny, 2011 – Sugar Lips:

What Happens if We Have Too Much Sugar?

OK here it is, the bottom line, first, you’re going to get fat, really fat. There’s no avoiding this one. No amount of exercise or dieting is gonna fix it. And then you’re going to get sick. Really sick. And here’s why.

When the body metabolises glucose, it releases insulin to control the chemical reaction induced by eating high amounts of glucose. Insulin tells the body to ‘store’ the glucose rather than burn it. So, metabolism glucose is converted to fat and stored in the body – usually in those places you don’t want it.

Sadly, when it comes to diet, we’ve been lied to for many years. Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology, debunks the last 30 years of nutritional information and explains the damage caused by a high sugar (including fructose) /low fibre diet in “Sugar: The Bitter Truth”.

And even I Quit Sugar’s Sarah Wilson agrees, while fructose isn’t metabolised in the same way, and doesn’t cause the same sort of spike in blood sugar and insulin production, it still contributes to your overall calorie count. So, remember that Star Fruit you gorged out on that contains 50% glucose? Guess what, your fat reserves just got added to. And they’re gonna keep getting added to until you make a choice.

How Can I Reduce the Effects of Sugar?

So you’ve decided to reduce your sugar intake. Subsequently, start slowly and track your sugar consumption – it should be 10% or less of your calories a day. When sweet cravings hit, choose low-fructose naturally occurring sweet foods like berries. Remember sugar is present in almost all foods including dairy. Read food labels and ingredient lists.

The optimal solution is to quit all added sugars, processed foods and sweet beverages, but this isn’t always practical. So minimise fresh fruit consumption and avoid all dried fruits where possible. Eat complex carbohydrates – quinoa, teff, amaranth – and ditch simple carbs – potatoes, rice, wheat, flours, bread. Eat mostly fresh vegetables, 50% raw, and some lean protein. Drink plenty of filtered water, boring I know, but you have to drink 45mls per kilogram of body weight. So, that’s 0.69 ounces per pound of body weight. It’s how I lost 70kg (150lbs) so I can vouch that it works.

Even though I’ve quit refined sugar, over the years my sweet tooth has gotten the better of me, and I’ve let too many alternative sugars and this addiction creep back into my life. Tired of the illness and added girth it has caused me, I’ve decided it’s now time to take a stand and quit, this time for good.

For some, including me, this is going to be rough…

What Sugar Replacements are Safe to Use?

If you need to sate your sweet tooth (and I still do), then don’t go for the maple syrup, rice malt syrup, agave, honey, molasses or coconut sugar or nectar. The truth is all of these substitutes are virtually the same from a sugar perspective and will ultimately add to your girth and size of your backside. And even worse are the artificial non-calorie chemical sugar substitutes like SplendaTM which mimic sugar and trigger the same chemical responses from the body even though they have no calories.

Instead, try getting used to the liquorice-like flavour of Stevia. It’s a natural plant product rich in steviosides, which have a negligible effect on blood glucose but are up to 150 times as sweet as sugar. It’s more recently been combined with a sugar-free alcohol called erythritol and granulated into a more palatable product sold under the names NativiaTM and SteviaSlimTM.

It doesn’t taste the same, and no I don’t get the same ‘sugar’ high. But, but it’s gonna help me kick this habit and fructose for good.

Sigrid de Castella

Sigrid de Castella is an internationally published author, speaker, and coach in the fields of health and business. Her book “Half The Woman I Was – How I lost 70kg naturally, reclaimed my life … and how you can too!” has received international acclaim and has been hailed as the most comprehensive weight loss book on the market. Sigrid has also studied Personal Training with the Fitness Institute Australia and has a keen interest in whole food nutrition, natural therapies and all aspects of physical and mental health. Sigrid and holds a BBA from RMIT University and is a member of both the Australian Institute of Managers and the Australian Society of Authors.

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Disclaimer: The information published in this column is based on each of the author’s own professional and personal knowledge and opinion. This information and opinion is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any manner. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition and consult a qualified medical professional before beginning any nutritional or exercise program. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on InShape News.


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