Many of us have come to believe that any type of sugar is bad for us. We load artificial sweeteners into our coffee or down diet sodas in our attempts to avoid this natural substance. But just as many others are convinced that refined table sugar alone is the culprit and that our sweet tooth can be satisfied with that other naturally occurring sugar, fructose, without causing us any harm. But is this true?
From our childhood on, we have craved sweetness. Sweet is good. We outgrow our childish tastes to a large extent. We may no longer require that spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down, but for the most part, each and every one of us still crave a bit of sugar from time to time. But is this really bad for us? And which types of sugars are best? Can the sugar found in fruit, fructose, really be bad for us?
All types of sugars are basically nutrient-poor, but they all provide our cells with energy. Sugars are basically carbohydrates without the accompanying calories. In the nineteenth century and early twentieth century, the average sugar intake per person was about 15 grams per day. Today, that has risen to about 55 grams. It is probably no coincidence that this rise in sugar intake has been accompanied by a corresponding rise in obesity, diabetes, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. But the problem seems to lie not in the type of sugar consumed, but in the quantity. We must be less concerned with the sugar content of food, and more concerned with the food itself. Overconsumption of sugar of any type may lead to unhealthy consequences.
Fructose, like its companion sugars glucose and sucrose, provides us with energy, but there are several disadvantages to this sugar. Glucose is the only type of sugar that can be used by virtually every cell in our body for energy. Fructose can only be broken down in the liver. This process can cause triglycerides to be released into the bloodstream, which can contribute to the buildup of plaque. But this is no reason to make us give up fructose entirely. Food which contains fructose, natural foods such as fruits, fruit juices, honey, and certain vegetables, contribute more to our healthy diet than simply a sugar boost. The problems lie, as most problems usually do, in the excess use of such foodstuffs. On one hand, fructose is the highest rated sugar on the sweetness scale, so, if we’re just looking for a snack or a quick energy boost, we can satisfy our sweet tooth in a more moderate fashion. On the other hand, this type of sugar does not trigger the production of leptin, a hormone that signals our body that we have had enough, nor does it inhibit the production of those hormones which tell us that we are hungry. So, if we’re looking for more than a snack, we may be tempted to overindulge. In all, fructose is both good, and bad, for us. But, for the most part, the foods that provide it are healthy additions to our menu. So, to lower or eliminate our intake of fructose by eliminating those food items may be a bit like throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
This brings us to one of the main bugaboos, the presence of the oft-maligned high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in many snack foods, candies, and beverages. High fructose corn syrup is made by adding enzymes to corn starch, which is pure glucose, rendering a concoction which is 42 to 55 percent glucose and 45 percent fructose. Since fructose is much sweeter than glucose, the result is a very effective sweetener. The resulting ratio of glucose to fructose is roughly the same as sucrose or common table sugar. By contrast, and for future reference, honey has a ratio of 1 part fructose to 10 parts glucose, so you may certainly want to consider honey as your go-to sweetener of choice. While the high fructose to glucose ratio may be of concern, and may once again prove the point that anything which is highly processed may be suspect, it also goes to show that the much denigrated HFCS is certainly no worse than common table sugar. In fact, the United States Food and Drug Administration has stated that they are not aware of any evidence that foods containing high fructose corn syrup are any less safe than those containing any other sweetener. And they offer no guidelines as to the daily minimum or maximum recommendations, because they view HFCS, with its high fructose component, as not a nutritional substance needed to survive. In their opinion, it has little or no value, but anyone who likes a little sweetness in their life may beg to disagree.
And that might just be the whole point. In the 1970s and there was a whole campaign against fat in our diets. Fats are bad, we were told. Even those which we now know are good ones. This is when fats seemed to be replaced with sugars. And now, it would seem, that we are being told, that sugar is bad. But is this really the case? And are some sugars worse than others? It would seem that sugars are, basically the same – calories without the accompanying nutritional value. Their value seems to lie in making our food more palatable, more desirable, more satisfying. And, when it comes right down to it, fructose is no worse than any other sugar when consumed in moderation. And there is no denying that that crisp apple is a lot more beneficial, nutritionally speaking, than that pastry. A piece of hard candy dissolving on your tongue may be a reward for a job well done or simply a small treat to keep you going, HFCS be damned. The trick is to not eat the entire bag. As long as you don’t overdo it, there is no harm in rewarding yourself with a bit of sweetness. Even if you’re following a low or no-carb Paleo diet, a little sugar can’t hurt. I’m sure even cavemen enjoyed a bit of fruit now and then!
Is Fruit Bad For You – The Truth About Fructose