Fructose is also known as fruit sugar as it is the naturally occurring sugar found in fruits and vegetables. The fructose in whole fruit or whole foods is bound together with other nutrients. For example in whole fruit you will find it together with fiber, glucose and vitamins. This decreases the harmful effect on our body. The fructose in table sugar is bound to glucose. In high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) it is bound to corn syrup as in the name. HFCS is twice as sweet as table sugar and will cause a similar spike in blood sugar. It is prevalent in packaged and processed food because it is inexpensive to make and you use less. This greatly benefits the food manufacturing industry by placing more money in their pockets but is detrimental to our health and well being.
To keep things simple, fructose is metabolized differently than glucose. It is almost entirely metabolized in the liver bypassing the gastrointestinal tract. It does not require insulin to enter our cells so it does not promote insulin secretion like glucose. Remember, insulin is our body’s way of regulating blood sugar and keeping it stable. Considering the differences, the type of fructose and the amount you are eating DO matter.
Today, Americans are eating more fructose than ever before. 70% or more of all processed food contain some type of added sugar or HFCS. This increase in fructose consumption is linked to the rise in obesity, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. It is very easy to overeat this type of sugar because we generally do not compensate for the additional calories in our diet. Think about eating a Big Mac with super size fries and a soda. Yikes, I think I can hear your liver crying! That’s just one meal in your day. This doesn’t happen with the fructose in whole fruits and vegetables. When you eat fruit or vegetables you will generally lower your caloric intake elsewhere. You get the benefit of additional fiber, vitamins and nutrients with whole foods.
The average American diet is about 16% sugar by calories. That is just average so the number is probably higher. Any sugar in excess is not healthy regardless of the type. Consider where you are getting your sugar from and what form the sugar is. Eat fruits, in moderation, that are lower in fructose like for example berries, citrus fruit and stone fruits (peaches, plums). Vegetables that are high in fiber and lower in fructose such as broccoli, spinach and cauliflower. These are excellent choices because they contain smaller amounts of fructose bound to other nutrients and are easily handled by the liver. Avoid high fructose corn syrup and added sugar found in energy drinks, sodas, fruit juices and processed food. These overload our liver, disrupt our satiety hormones and result in overeating, cravings and poor health. We are what we eat so choose your food wisely.