Sugar: Fructose and More

I recently read an article about high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), the inexpensive sweetener that is used extensively in highly processed products, like ketchup, barbecue sauce, breakfast “cereals,” soft drinks and sports drinks, muffins, cookies, cakes, and tons of other products that you might not even think of as sweet, like bread and baked beans. This week, a few random musings about sugar, mainly fructose.

Ketchup and barbecue sauce are one-third HFCS, which means that one tablespoon of ketchup contains a teaspoon of HFCS. Some low-fat, fruit yogurts contain up to ten teaspoons of HFCS per container, which is why I recommend plain yogurt (organic), to which you should feel free to add fruit, nuts, seeds, vanilla extract, cinnamon, or cocoa powder. Basically, whatever you like.

Fructose has lots of problems. Glucose is the main form of sugar into which food is broken down and absorbed by the blood stream, but fructose is metabolized very differently and more directly than glucose: When you absorb glucose into your bloodstream, your liver decides whether to use the glucose right away (to run a marathon) or to store it for a rainy day. When you absorb fructose, however, it is rapidly converted to triglyceride, a type of cholesterol strongly associated with obesity, impaired sugar metabolism, insulin resistance, and diabetes.

Storage of fructose calories as fat occurs not only at the meal during which you eat it, but in subsequent meals as well. Its negative effects stay with you; eating fructose at breakfast makes you more likely to store not only your breakfast calories, but also your lunchtime ones. Ugh.

There is good news, though. These issues do not apply to fruit. Why is it okay to eat fructose from fruit but not from corn syrup? The answer can be summed up in a single word — fiber. As opposed to stripped carbs (sugar and starch), which are absorbed very rapidly, high-fiber foods are absorbed slowly and are much more nourishing. Human beings evolved to eat foods that are absorbed slowly, and those foods are categorized as either protein, fat, or intact carbohydrates, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans, which are packed with phytonutrients and fiber that nourish us from the inside out.

So skip the juice, and eat the fruit. Whether it’s apples, kiwi, strawberries, melons or peaches, let the fiber do its job, slowing your absorption of the fructose (fruit sugar) inside the fruit. A molecule of fructose is and always will be a molecule of fructose, no matter its source. But the rapidity with which you absorb it is changed significantly by the presence of fiber ingested along with it. The fiber in fruit will slow digestion of fructose, and turn your food into a delicious, nutritious sweet treat.

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