NUTRITION: Fructose – What’s The Deal? | Great Health Guide
NUTRITION: Fructose – What’s The Deal?

NUTRITION: Fructose – What’s The Deal?

‘Fructose – What’s The Deal?’ by Tanya Leyson published in Great Health Guide (Jan 2016). Fructose is found naturally in all fruit and vegetables and it’s a low GI sugar, but find out where fructose is hidden and the negative effects it can have. Read all about fructose in this article by nutritionist Tanya.
Read other Nutrition articles on Great Health Guide, a hub of expert-inspired resources empowering busy women to embody health beyond image … purpose beyond measure.

NUTRITION: Fructose – What’s The Deal?

written by Tanya Leyson

Fructose. It’s found naturally in all fruit and vegetables and it’s a low GI sugar, so it must be one of the better sugars for us to consume – or is it? 

It’s all about the quantity. Plentiful, fresh fruits and vegetables are a healthy component to our diets and they provide a wealth of nutrients, but fructose should only be consumed in small amounts and here’s why. The two simplest sugars are glucose and fructose which together make up sucrose (table sugar). Simple sugars are the smallest molecules of sugars or carbohydrates that are broken down inside our body. They can then be used at the cellular level by the body. When these sugars are broken down and are circulating in our body, glucose and fructose are treated as two very different sugars by the body. 

Glucose is the most common sugar, it can be metabolised and used by every cell in the body and because of this glucose will also raise blood sugar levels readily and quickly to a very high level if eaten in large amounts. Fructose can only be metabolized in the liver. The liver converts some of the fructose into glycogen which is then stored in the liver and muscles and is used during longer exercise sessions, during overnight fast and to maintain normal blood glucose levels between meals. The rest of the fructose is converted to triglycerides, or fatty acids, which are released into the bloodstream. Over time, high triglyceride levels can contribute to hardening of the arteries or thickening of artery walls, also known as atherosclerosis, which increases the risk of stroke, heart disease and heart attack.

Metabolic syndrome, also known as Syndrome X, is a cluster of risk factors or conditions that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes type 2. Other risk factors include high blood pressure, hyperglycemia, insulin resistance, central obesity, as well as lower healthy blood fats (i.e. HDL or high-density lipoprotein) and high triglycerides.

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Along with other lifestyle and dietary choices, these risk factors can all be the result of too much dietary fructose. So there is a real potential problem with consuming sweet foods. Over 35% of Australian adults have metabolic syndrome. This is an example of a first world country that is turning its wealth into an unhealthy abundance. The right information about fructose and glucose needs to be put into practice to keep the body in balance.

Think of the body as an ecosystem. Sugar intake needs to be kept in balance, otherwise other parts of the ecosystem are affected, causing them to overgrow or die off. With excess glucose and fructose, insulin production and the metabolism of sugars are affected. The pancreas is responsible for insulin production and the liver deals with the fructose. There will only ever be one liver and one pancreas in the body, so they need to be looked after and given only what they can handle. 

So if fruits and vegetables are the main source of fructose and we are still eating too much causing metabolic syndrome, then where is it coming from? A major source of dietary fructose is sucrose. Also known as table sugar, white sugar or cane sugar, sucrose is 50% fructose and 50% glucose. As many of us are aware, fructose floods our processed food supply and is added to anything from the more obvious products like baked goods, or more slyly to items such as breakfast foods and tomato sauce.

Then there’s all those natural sweeteners which are free of refined sugars that many of us have grown to love. Sure, they are free of nasty white sugar that has developed quite a bad reputation and rightly so, but what about all those alternative natural sweeteners that have been substituted for sugar? 

They all come from different sources, are minimally processed, have varying tastes, offer a sweetness to replace that of sugar but they all contain varying amounts of fructose. While these are approximate amounts of fructose and do vary from one variety to another, it’s worth knowing that honey contains 40% fructose, agave is 55% – 97% fructose, coconut contains 38% – 48% of fructose while yacon syrup is approximately 35% fructose. While they all have different properties, the main takeaway point here is that they all contain fructose.

What should you do? Well, think of these sweeteners just like sugar. Adding a tablespoon of maple syrup to an organic-berry-fresh-nut-milk-smoothie or baking with coconut sugar instead of white sugar, still has its benefits, but be aware that these sweeteners also contain fructose. Enjoy the sweet taste, in moderation and with mindfulness and you’ll be able to have your cake (a small piece) and eat it to.

Sorry to add a sour taste to your day, but we need to be brutally honest when it comes to understanding the health implications of fructose and those ‘healthy sweet alternatives’. We are all searching for that sweet-as-sugar taste that is natural with low or no fructose, low acidity and low calorie. So far, it doesn’t really exist. Moderation is still the key.

Author of this article:
Tanya Leyson is the founder of Real Nourishment, a wellness coach, nutritionist and avid recipe developer. 
After working in the food and health industry for nearly 10 years, in areas spanning weight loss clinics, research and recipe development, Tanya started Real Nourishment as a way to educate and empower people to make sound food choices and achieve their health goals. Tanya is based in Adelaide, South Australia and can be contacted via her website.

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