Guest Blog from Amanda of The Raw Food Kitchen
Fructose; it’s likely that you’ve heard the term. Health officials, wellness gurus, and even entire industries debate over the safety level of this common sweetener. Some say it’s simply a naturally derived sugar alternative, and others insist that it’s unhealthy to the point of being unsafe for consumption. But, what is fructose, and why is it the topic of such heated back and forth discussion?
Fructose is natural
Let’s start at the beginning. Fructose is a natural sugar found in many plants. It exists in higher quantities in fruits, but also can be found in many vegetables, including corn. (You’ve probably guessed by now that this is where high fructose corn syrup comes from.) Because fructose exists as a natural component of fruits and vegetables, it has been a part of the human diet for millennia, and it is generally agreed that small amounts (up to 50 grams a day) are safe to consume.
However, while fructose is indeed a natural sweeter, the negative effect that large quantities can have on human health is bound to leave a bad taste in your mouth. Our bodies break down fructose much differently than they metabolize its cousin glucose. While the two may sound similar, the difference between what each becomes in the human body couldn’t be starker; glucose is converted into energy, while fructose is converted into fat.
But don’t do it to excess!
It doesn’t stop there – excess fructose consumption can lead to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. It has the same effect on the liver as alcohol (which is known as a liver toxin), and can lead to fatty liver disease. An increase in uric acid production as a result of too much of the sweet stuff can lead to gout and kidney stones, and increase risk for hypertension. It has also been shown to impair memory in rats, and is known to affect brain functioning in humans as well (especially as it relates to the ability to regulate the appetite). Finally, even though normally functioning human cells cannot utilize fructose for energy, mutated cancer cells thrive on it, as do certain bacteria in the human gut. Both proliferate when too much fructose is present.
As if that weren’t enough reason to steer clear of the f-word, it turns out that many people are particularly sensitive to fructose, and able to absorb less of it through their intestinal walls. For those with fructose malabsorption issues, consumption can cause symptoms similar to those of celiac disease – severe bloating, cramping, gas, and distention of the gut. It can also exacerbate leaky gut syndrome, as fructose that is not absorbed will ferment in the body, causing further damage to an already injured digestive system. Healing the gut by removing toxins (like excess fructose) and balancing the flora can help those with fructose malabsorption digest smaller amounts properly, and relieve some of the unpleasant symptoms.
Foods to avoid for a Fructose friendly diet
Still, fructose intake will need to be limited for optimal health. To embark on a fructose-friendly diet, avoid fruits and vegetables that contain fructose as more than 50% of their natural sugars. A few of these include apples, artichoke, mangoes, cherries, sugar, snap peas, watermelon, and pears. Not to worry though; most vegetables are perfectly safe for consumption, and acceptable fruits (those with a low fructose content) include bananas, strawberries, blueberries, oranges, cantaloupe, and honeydew melon. Just be sure to space these out over the course of a day, as eating too many at one time will result in too large an intake of fructose for the intolerant digestive system to comfortably handle. Processed or dried fruits (even those with low fructose in their natural state) should also be avoided. Finally, you’ll need to let go of high fructose sweeteners, like honey, high fructose corn syrup, and agave.
Say no to the white stuff
But wait! Before you start reaching for the products made with “real sugar,” you should know that there are risks to using the white powdery stuff as well. Refined sugar carries most of the same health consequences as fructose. Table sugar, or sucrose, is a molecule made up of half glucose and half fructose. That means the chances of diabetes, gut imbalances, cancer, liver problems, etc., still all increase with the amount of refined sugar consumed, not to mention the potential of packing on a few extra pounds. To avoid these outcomes, choose a natural sweetener with a lower glycemic index. Try rice malt syrup, stevia or xylitol, for example, to sweeten without the sour results.
If you are interested in exploring a plant based diet check out The Raw Food Kitchen’s website for a free raw food recipe or two and lots of tips. I also have raw food diet plans to assist people in their transition into raw food.
And for low or no sugar options on your recipes check out The Raw Food Kitchen Book.