Never before in the history of humankind has sugar, in one form or another, been consumed on the level that it is today. Americans take in on average 130 pounds a years – 5 times the amount eaten 100 years ago; world consumption has tripled in the past 50 years. After all, it’s cheap, highly addictive and present in virtually 80% of all foods sold in supermarkets around the globe. The problem is our bodies can’t handle it!
The primarily villain is fructose. All sugars contain about half glucose, half fructose. Glucose is the basic source of energy for the whole body; fructose provides the sweetness and little else. Glucose without fructose, is starch, as in rice, yams, potatoes. It can be metabolized by nearly every cell in the body or stored as glycogen for energy reserve so, if we’re starving, our bodies are adapted to draw on those stores for survival. (Of course, most people are not starving yet consume large amounts of starches, which then becomes a problem…).
Fructose is another story. In itself it’s not bad – it’s the massive doses that make it toxic. Like alcohol, fructose can only be metabolized in the liver where excess stresses that vital organ to convert it to fat. The constant whammee! delivered to the liver sets up insulin resistance: blood glucose rises, as the pancreas struggles to release extra insulin which can then drive cancer growth and block the satiation response, producing a false sense of starvation and the message: eat more! The vicious cycle elevates uric acid levels, raising blood pressure, stressing the kidneys along with other essential organs and leading to chronic, low-level inflammation that is at the core of our epidemic of degenerative diseases, like obesity, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, accelerated aging, possibly dementia.
All sugars contain fructose: white sugar, cane, beet, fruit, table and brown sugar, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), maple syrup, honey, agave nectar. In Nature the sweetness in fruits makes them more palatable and thus, a good delivery system for vitamins, minerals, cleansers, but only when ripe at a certain time of year which would naturally limit exposure to sugars. However, today, thanks to “advances” in technology, we can binge on sugar all year, mostly refined and devoid of fiber or any nutritive value that would modulate negative effects. Sodas are typically loaded with HFCS, but all fruit juices (organic, too) are high in fructose and lacking in fiber and other nutrients, especially if pasteurized. Most all fast foods, canned goods, low-fat products are high in fructose. These foods, more and more typical in modern industrial societies, are an ideal recipe for the kind of diseases that are killing us slowly.
TO SWEETEN OR NOT TO SWEETEN?
If your diet was like that of people a century ago, you’d consume about 15 grams of fructose per day – a far cry from the 73 grams per day the typical person today gets just from sweetened drinks. Amazingly, 25 percent of people actually consume more than 130 grams of fructose per day, while most experts agree that the daily dose should not exceed 25 grams. So how, in our modern fast food world, can we enjoy the pleasure of sweets in a healthy way?
First of all, go for the full package – whole, unrefined foods that have natural sweetness along with all the other synergistic elements Nature has provided. This applies especially to whole fruits in season.Even though these contain fructose, they also have vitamins, minerals, enzymes, phytonutrients and high amounts of antioxidants that moderate the negative metabolic effects. But don’t overdo!
Caveat: Those with insulin resistance – i.e., diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity – should limit fructose from fruit to 15 grams per day or less. (See chart below)
Fruit Serving Size Grams of Fructose Limes 1 medium 0 Lemons 1 medium 0.6 Cranberries 1 cup 0.7 Passion fruit 1 medium 0.9 Prune 1 medium 1.2 Apricot 1 medium 1.3 Guava 2 medium 2.2 Date (Deglet Noor style) 1 medium 2.6 Cantaloupe 1/8 of med. melon 2.8 Raspberries 1 cup 3.0 Clementine 1 medium 3.4 Kiwifruit 1 medium 3.4 Blackberries 1 cup 3.5 Star fruit 1 medium 3.6 Cherries, sweet 10 3.8 Strawberries 1 cup 3.8 Cherries, sour 1 cup 4.0 Pineapple 1 slice (3.5″ x .75″) 4.0 Grapefruit, pink or red 1/2 medium 4.3 Boysenberries 1 cup 4.6 Tangerine/mandarin orange 1 medium 4.8 Nectarine 1 medium 5.4 Peach 1 medium 5.9 Orange (navel) 1 medium 6.1 Papaya 1/2 medium 6.3 Honeydew 1/8 of med. melon 6.7 Banana 1 medium 7.1 Blueberries 1 cup 7.4 Date (Medjool) 1 medium 7.7 Apple (composite) 1 medium 9.5 Persimmon 1 medium 10.6 Watermelon 1/16 med. melon 11.3 Pear 1 medium 11.8 Raisins 1/4 cup 12.3
What about fruit juices? Fruit juices contain high concentrations of fructose. Children are particularly at risk because they’re often given juice instead of water when they’re thirsty, setting them up for obesity and worse down the line. Always check the label on commercial fruit juice; avoid all with HFCS and artificial flavors, as well as concentrate instead of whole fruit based. However, even freshly squeezed juice can contain as much as 8 full teaspoons of fructose per 8 ounce glass! Some fruits are less of a problem than others. For instance, pear and apple juice are very low in Vitamin C, but very high in fructose; orange or grapefruit juice have at least high Vitamin C, so would be preferable. If you suffer from insulin resistance problems (diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity), however, best to avoid fruit juices altogether until you can normalize your uric acid and insulin levels.
SWEETENERS TO AVOID:
- High fructose corn syrup (HFCS). It’s 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose with essentially no redeeming nutritional value.
- Sugar alcohols, like xylitol, glycerol, sorbitol, maltitol, mannitol, and erythritol. These are neither sugars nor alcohols, but are becoming increasingly popular as sweeteners. They are incompletely absorbed from your small intestine, for the most part, so they provide fewer calories than sugar, but often cause problems with bloating, diarrhea, and flatulence. Xylitol in moderation, when it’s pure, has minimal side effects, so would be a better choice than other sugar alcohols, though certainly not the overall best choice. It is, however, toxic to dogs and some other animals, so keep away from your pets.
- Sucralose (Splenda) and all artificial sweeteners. Sucralose is NOT a sugar, despite its sugar-like name and deceptive marketing slogan “made from sugar.” It’s a chlorinated artificial sweetener in line with aspartame (NutraSweet and Equal), saccharin (Sweet’N Low), Neotame (“new and improved” Aspartame) – all with similar detrimental health effects. Stay away!
- Agave syrup. This is very common in so-called health foods. It’s falsely advertised as “natural,” typically highly processed and usually 80% fructose. The end product does not even remotely resemble the original agave plant.
- Sugar by any other name is still sugar. Thanks to FDA and USDA loopholes, manufacturers can use a variety of names for sugars on their labels. This makes it extremely difficult for consumers to figure out what percentage of calories sugar represents in packaged foods. Watch out for sugars ending in –ose: Sucrose, Maltose, Dextrose, Galactose, Lactose, Glucose solids. Other disguised sugars: cane juice, dehydrated cane juice, cane juice solids, cane juice crystals, Dextrin, Maltodextrin, Dextran, Barley malt, Beet sugar, Corn Syrup, Corn syrup solids, Carmel, Buttered Syrup, Carob syrup, Brown sugar, Date sugar, Malt syrup, Diatase, Diatase malt, Fruit juice, Fruit juice concentrate, Dehydrated fruit juice, Fruit juice crystals, golden syrup, turbinado, sorghum syrup, Refiners syrup, Ethyl maltol, Yellow sugar.
RECOMMENDED SWEETENERS (in small doses)
Look for organic sweeteners. Beware of refined or altered forms of these sweeteners which not only lack the nutrients, but can have the same kind of adverse effects as the sweeteners mentioned above. Also, keep in mind that, if you have insulin issues, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or if you’re overweight, it would be best to avoid all added sweeteners, as any sweetener can decrease your insulin sensitivity.
- Organic Stevia. This is a highly sweet herb derived from the leaf of the South American stevia plant, which has been used for centuries. With no calories and no glycemic impact, Stevia is completely safe in its natural form.
- Organic coconut palm sugar crystals. Sap from the coconut palm is heated to evaporate its water content and reduce to granules or crystals. It’s rich in nutrients, low on the glycemia index (doesn’t spike blood sugar), and has a pleasant subtle sweetness. The crystals can substitute for traditional sugar in recipes. Production is exceptionally environmentally friendly: the trees can go on providing sap for 20 years, producing more sugar per hectare than sugar cane without need for chemical fertilizers or pesticides.
- Raw honey, like unprocessed Manuka. Honey is about 53 % fructose, but, in its completely natural raw form, loaded with vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, carbohydrates, phytonutrients and as many antioxidants as spinach. It has many anti-bacterial properties and other health benefits when used in very small amounts, e.g., less than 1 teaspoon a day.
- Organic cane sugar. This is unrefined compared to white sugar so it retains many nutrients and has a the more full-bodied taste of sugar cane. Nevertheless, limit to a few teaspoons a day at most.
- Organic Molasses (unsulfured). Molasses is what’s left from the processing of white cane sugar. Consequently, it contains most of the lost nutritional benefits – a good source of iron, calcium and potassium. It has a rich flavor, but is sweeter than sugar, so a very little goes a long way.
Read food labels religiously! Fructose is a natural substance and in itself is not harmful. The massive doses, far too typical today, however, are a disaster! Ideally, about 25 grams a day is enough, though those who are overweight or have diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure should consume less, if not avoid completely.
In general, ditch the sodas, processed foods, low-fat diet foods; down fruit juice, especially commercial brands, sparingly! But do enjoy a little sweetness in moderation with fresh fruit according to the season and some of the natural unrefined sweeteners recommended above.
The Sugar Fix: The High-Fructose Fallout That Is Making You Fat and Sick by Robert Johnson and Timothy Gower
Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity and Disease by Robert H. Lustig
“Fructose: This Addictive Commonly Used Food Feeds Cancer Cells, Triggers Weight Gain, and Promotes Premature Aging” by Dr. Mercola
“This Popular Drink May Be Almost as Hazardous to Your Health as Soda” by Dr. Mercola
“How Excess Sugar Affects Your Body” (video) – FoodMatters