There has been a lot written recently about hidden sugars in foods and how to avoid them. In fact there is now a lobby Action on Sugar (www.actiononsugar.org) that is trying to persuade food manufacturers to drastically reduce the amount of sugars that are added to various foods.
But can some foods that are considered high in ‘sugars’ offer any health benefits? Well, the simple answer is YES!
Fruits which come in a wonderful rainbow of colours provide us with all kinds of vitamins and minerals, phytonutrients and antioxidants and fibre, all contain a form of sugar called fructose.
What is fructose?
Fructose is a simple monosaccharide has a different molecular structure to glucose which you can get from starchy vegetables such as potatoes. In fact our bodies produce glucose which is essential to life – it is used by every cell in our body including providing energy for the brain.
Fructose however, is used in a different way and the liver is the only organ that can break it down in large amounts. Unfortunately when we eat a high calorie diet that also contains high fructose the liver becomes overloaded and converts the fructose to fat – typically around the middle.
From an evolutionary point of view humans only ate fructose when fruits were in season and ripe and in fact our ability to store it as fat was useful for the coming winter months when we needed those extra stores of energy.
In the 21st century food manufacturers use fructose – especially high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) – in a wide variety of foods and many experts believe this is helping the fuel the obesity epidemic we now face.
Excess fructose has been linked to many degenerative diseases including type ll diabtes, heart disease and cancers.
How does excess fructose lead to disease?
- It can lead to fatty liver disease as fats are deposited in the liver
- Can cause heart disease because it raises triglycerides (fats in the blood) and very low density lipoproteins (VLDL), the bad form of cholesterol
- Causes insulin resistance (IR) which can lead to type ll diabetes and obesity. IR leads to elevated levels of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) which is implicated in the growth of cancer cells
- It may cause leptin resistance, a hormone which helps regulate our appetite (see my blog: http://www.lucksyardclinic.com/leptin-the-weight-loss-hormone/)
- It can lead to high blood pressure and excess uric acid levels which can cause gout
- New research shows that excess fructose can stimulate parts of the brain which are associated with addiction. In fact fructose does not make us feel full in the same way as glucose does thereby encouraging high calorie consumption.
Should I be eating fruit?
Although fruits are high in fructose (and some more than others), it is important to understand that when eating whole fruits you are consuming all kinds of wonderful nutrients as well as fibre which is very important to help prevent many of the diseases outlined above.
This is often why fruit juices and smoothies get a bad press – they are concentrated forms of fructose with the fibre removed.
Although some are higher in fructose than others, fruits are a far healthier snack than a biscuit, cake or sweets! So don’t avoid altogether and I recommend that you continue to eat fruit but a maximum of 2-3 portions daily.
Dried fruits are ALL high in fructose so take care when eating these – have as an occasional treat. Fruit juice is VERY HIGH in fructose and should be avoided unless you are juicing your own fruit which you can combine with vegetable juices (use more veg than fruit and stir some of the pulp back in to give you some fibre).
You will be pleased to know that fruits which are coming into season such as strawberries, raspberries, figs, apricots and nectarines are all considered ‘low’ in fructose.