Part 3: The low-down on fructose, and a quick note on this quitting game

Hm...

If you read my previous two posts (here and here), you might have spent some time this past week thinking a bit about sugar and all things fructose. I've had a few readers send in some questions, mainly in the 'isn't fructose natural, surely it isn't that bad' vain. So I thought I'd address that query here: 

Fructose is natural, yes, it's the sugar found naturally in fruits (and some veggies). It also makes up half of the sugar in table sugar, aka sucrose (the other half is glucose). But the thing about it is this - it matters how it's delivered - in what vehicle (fruit, table sugar, honey), and in what quantity. When fructose is delivered via an apple, say, the fibre and other bits and pieces in that apple help your body absorb the fructose more slowly. The fibre also inhibits absorption of some free fatty acids, and helps you feel fuller faster. Additionally, the fructose comes rationed to a perfectly respectable dose. This helps your liver cope with it.

Have your fructose via a glass of apple juice, however, and your body is suddenly accosted by the fructose from approximately five apples, and no fibre to help slow its absorption. When would you ever eat five apples in one sitting?! When would you ever even eat five apples in one day?! All good dietitians will tell you to avoid fruit juices, or at least water them down. This is why. It matters in what vehicle and quantity fructose is delivered. 

So you could say that small, unrefined doses of fructose, such as what you'd get by eating two pieces of fruit a day, isn't a bad thing in itself (in fact, fruit is healthy as we all know). The problem is, these days, when a bagful of fructose in refined vehicles (like table sugar) is but an armlength away, we're eating way more of it than we were ever designed to. Back before sugar became a billion-dollar industry, we were consuming fructose from fruit, veggies and, in the case of high society, maybe a few teaspoons of added sugar a day. Now, the average Australian consumes 31 teaspoons of sugar a day. A day! In small, unrefined doses, fructose is effectively harmless. But that's not how we're gobbling it up these days.
 
I'm going to post an article about the different types of ‘fructose vehicles’: the various types of sugar, honey, agave nectar and so on, separately. But for now know this - fructose is fructose is fructose, yes, BUT how it comes can make a huge difference to how our body copes with it, and its overall health effect. 

Hopefully that curbs any confusion about the natural status of fructose. But I still worry about sounding a bit doomsday, a bit like ‘you must quit sugar forever and never touch the stuff again'. That's no fun, not for anyone. I don't believe we have to do that. When I decided to quit sugar, my main priority was this: "break the addiction Maria, so you can get your health back, and so you can eat a square of chocolate every once in a while without wanting to gorge on the entire block and then raid a candy shop". See, it's about breaking free of the shackle so you can control your consumption, so you can enjoy a special little sweet every now and then, without binging. Without getting that unruly wild urge to eat your weight in cake. 

I'm really passionate about this issue because sugar (in the refined, bad-news form) has infiltrated our lives in more ways than is necessary, to the detriment of our mental and physical health. But for me it goes further than that. There's also this: mass sugar farming has TERRIBLE consequences for the environment. Our ferocious appetite for sugar (more than 145 million tonnes is produced every year) comes at a high cost, and it's our land, water and animals (as well as our own health) that continue to pay the price. 

There are sweet alternatives to sugar as we've come to know it. Alternatives that are healthier for us, healthier for the environment. So for now, refined sugar is bad news because:

  • it's basically a nutrient-devoid vehicle for delivering way more fructose than we're designed to eat, thereby damaging our health
  • mass farming and harvesting of sugar has detrimental effects on our land, water and animals
  • quitting isn't about never tasting sweetness again. It's about regaining some control of our consumption of it, and reducing demand for it. It's about discovering other, healthier ways of sweetening food. So you can enjoy sweetness minus the guilt trip. 

By now I reckon you might have a toe in one of two camps: - 1. Holy crap, I think I'm addicted, I really should quit sugar too, or 2. I really don't eat that much sugar anyway. I'm going to address these camps over the next week, because I strongly believe in giving people information, and letting them make their own, informed choices. 

For now, what are you thinking about all this sugar talk? For me, I tell you, quitting it has changed my life because I no longer feel all fuzzy and woolley each afternoon. I feel so much more stable, stronger. I also feel really strongly against anything refined, and most of the sugar on the market these days is HIGHLY refined. I think quitting sugar, regaining control, and discovering healthier options is best for everything and everyone. You?

3 comments:

  1. I too, like many others, have felt like i've been held at gunpoint to sugar. Whether it be the craving after every meal to 'need something sweet' or the 'can't stop at just one bite...'

    Thanks so much for this blog, it just gives me more ammunition when I go in to battle when the sugar urge rears its ugly head.

    I've learnt to ask myself a few questions before I sucuumb to sugar. Rather than just the pleasure my brain is trying to receive from sweetness....I ask myself....how will my body feel about this? When I tap into that I remember how it makes me feel irritable, grumpy and just craving more.

    That helps me to stop...and go about seeking pleasure from something else....rather than the quick fix sugar drug.

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  2. this is one of the best articles I've seen re:
    fructose! I have been 'free' now for 5 months..I had a small portion of Christmas pudding 2 weeks ago with no reaction, but watched myself carefully for the next 2 days when I thought I would crave sugar! I didn't! so I know now that I can occasionally have something with fructose and survive with no reactions. Originally my biggest help was almonds...5 almonds to chew and I forgot I wanted sugar.
    I now have no mood swings! I have never felt happier or more content.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Fantastic blog. Even as a health professional I am learning heaps.
    What do you know about No Added Sugar carob? I have switched from sweetened carob buds to the NAS ones but wondered if they still had natural sugar in them.
    I think the most important thing is that we need to re-educate our taste buds. I always reduce the sugar in recipes by about 30%, just because I prefer the taste, & can't eat processed food due to additives allergy, but now I'm thinking I need to go further because the urge to eat something sweet is still such a wicked temptation.
    Cheers
    Kate

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