As we’ve now been told by a wide range of experts including the World Health Organization (WHO), excess added sugar contributes significantly to not just obesity and diabetes, but also to many other conditions including arthritis, cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s. They are talking about added sugar which is hidden in something like 80% of processed foods…even in places you might not think to look like salad dressings, baloney and pizza. The WHO says we should aim for just 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day. (Oops, one candy bar can zap you with 7 teaspoons and one 20 ounce Coke contains 16.)
That white stuff in the sugar bowl is sucrose. It is made of glucose plus fructose (also known as fruit sugar). “Fruit Sugar” sounds quite innocent compared to “High Fructose Corn Syrup”. There is a difference, but it is perhaps less dramatic than you might think. Fructose on its own acts differently than sucrose. For one thing it goes directly into the blood stream during digestion. The effects of excess fructose intake include:
- Tricks the liver into making that worrisome fat that clumps around organs
- Lowers HDL (the “good” cholesterol)
- Increases triglycerides (which may be a bigger cardio risk than cholesterol)
- Increases blood pressure
- Stresses the liver (“alcohol without the buzz” according to Robert Lustig, MD)
- Reduces energy (ATP) inside cells
- Slows the repair of genes
- Generates uric acid (which in turn is a cause of gout)
- Is linked to pancreatic cancer
Obviously, overdoing fructose is a bad idea. How to reduce fructose intake is the question, especially if sugars are added to seemingly everything. Here are my suggestions.
- Avoid soft drinks. (Just one soda a day increases the risk of diabetes.)
- Eat fewer processed foods–those are the boxes, bottles and cans sold mainly in the center of the grocery store
- Since some packaged foods are better than others, there is no substitute for comparing labels. Sugar is masked in dozens of disguises, so the best guide is the total sugars in the nutrition facts panel. (Divide the number of grams by 4 to convert to teaspoons because that figure may be easier to visualize.)
- Especially if you are having health problems, don’t get carried away with sweet foods even if they are not processed.
High Fructose Corn Syrup is worse than fructose from other sources because it picks up the toxin mercury during its processing. Also it is usually added to sodas and processed foods that have few redeeming qualities. The fructose contained in fruits and vegetables comes with fiber and important nutrients. However, the fructose intake from all sources during a day does add up and someone with a serious sweet tooth may be getting more than they realize even from what they believe is a healthy diet. For example the charts below show the approximate number of teaspoons of fructose in some common foods. Note this is just the fructose part—the total amount of sugar is higher. Note how sweetness is concentrated in juice and amplified in large servings.
Banana, one medium, 1 teaspoon
Navel orange, one medium, 1 teaspoon
Orange juice, 8 ounces, 2.5 teaspoons
Grapes, one cup, 3 teaspoons
Red Delicious Apple, one large, 4 teaspoons
Sweet potato (baked in skin), one cup, 1.4 teaspoons
Sweet potato (canned)*, one cup, 12 teaspoons
*These figures are computed based on stats from the USDA database which I’m sad to say would not include the extra brown sugar and marshmallows that might be added. Happy Thanksgiving.