January 17, 2014

Sugar vs. Fructose

sugar: glucose vs. fructose

 

I’ve been asked a lot of questions lately regarding which sweetener is best. I started this conversation last week discussing my favorite sweetener (100% pure maple syrup).

Before I get into the answer of “which sweetener is best” I need to say that no sweetener is preferred. I think the best advice is to see where you can limit your sugar intake as most of us are consuming way too much, putting our health at risk.  However, like I mentioned last week, while I have tried to reduce my intake I can’t quit the sweet stuff completely. When I do enjoy treats, I choose quality of quantity.

Glucose vs. Fructose:

If you’ve read anything on nutrition in the last decade, you are familiar with high-fructose-corn-syrup (aka public enemy #1 in certain organic circles). HFCS  is a blend of 55% fructose and 45% glucose, a cheap, corn based sweetener that is found in most processed foods: soda, candy, sweets. While HFCS sounds dangerous, it really isn’t that far off from the other common sweetener, sucrose (table sugar) which contains 50% glucose and 50% fructose.

When we break down foods, we convert them into glucose to be used as fuel for the body. Since sugar requires very little to be converted into glucose, it gives us a quick boost of energy with little else. No vitamins, minerals or fiber. Consuming pure sugar, without fiber, raises insulin levels. This is a natural occurring mechanism designed to bring glucose into the cells to be used for energy. The problem with simple sugars is that insulin levels rise too quickly, producing a “roller coaster” effect of energy levels. Adding natural fiber, like those found in fruit, helps prevent this spike from happening.

There is  some evidence that the body treats fructose differently than glucose. When metabolizing glucose the body has a few options: using it for energy, convert to triglycerides or store as fat. When the body (liver) metabolizes fructose, it tends to be stored directly as fat. This also seems to happen more commonly in those who are already overweight or obese. Ps. This is also the argument for choosing agave nectar because it’s a “low glycemic” food. Yes, because it’s metabolized through the liver, which wouldn’t raise blood sugar as high as glucose. Agave nectar contains around 90% fructose.

My concern with high fructose corn syrup, besides being metabolized differently than glucose, is the fact that it’s made from corn. Typically GMO corn since most corn produced in America is not organic. While the jury may still be out on whether on not GMO is harmful, I am choosing to sit this one out until shown otherwise. As a specialist in food sensitivities, I have seen lots of clients with symptoms after eating GMO foods and symptom free when they choose the organic, non-GMO variety. 

Bottom Line: glucose and fructose are two monosaccharides, digested easily and designed for quick energy for the body. Fructose seems to be metabolized differently by the liver. Whether or not one or the other contributes more to obesity rates, we have a huge problem on our hands- we are eating way too much sugar! Cutting back should be on everyone’s mind, and not just to levels of “moderation.”

“Moderation” is a catch-phrase designed by food companies. It does not suggest a healthy, balanced diet. Limiting is a better word to use. Limit sweets- whether that means an occasional soda, cookie, brownie, whatever. I don’t believe in being the food police but I do think it’s important to understand the consequences of the foods we eat.

So, tell me- how are you limiting your sugar intake? Are you concerned about it?

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Meet Alex Caspero

Alex Caspero is a Registered Dietitian, Plant-Based Chef and Yoga Instructor. She aims to cut through the nutrition noise by providing real-life, nourishing tips for body and mind. Learn more about Alex.

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  1. Hi Alexandra! I have been following katheats.com blog for some time and saw you as her guest. I really like your blog! I am also on my way to becoming an RD (if I will get matched to an internship this April). I recently started blogging as well and my blog is called eatwithtaste.com if you want to check it out.
    I really like the information you provided in this post as many people think that agave is way better than sugar and when I tell them it’s not, they say that I don’t know anything.