Since it’s found in fruits, sugar has always been a part of the human diet. Grains and dairy foods also contain sugars. The amount of sugar you consume in fruits and other whole foods is probably of little health concern. (Fruit juice? I’m not so sure.)
But over the past four decades or so the amount of added sugars in the American diet has increased by 30%. And we know that isn’t good for your health. Moreover, not all sugars are created equal. Some are worse than others – fructose, for instance.
Most of the sugar we consume comes in the form of disaccharides. A disaccharide is a molecule in which two simple sugars (monosaccharides) are linked together. Three of the common disaccharides in the human diet are:
sucrose = glucose + fructose
lactose = glucose + galactose
maltose = glucose + glucose.
Glucose is the energy coin of the realm within your body. When you’re running low of fuel, other molecules can be converted into glucose as needed, including proteins, fats, and other monosaccharides such as fructose.
But there are a couple of wrinkles along the pathway of fructose metabolism that can present problems. It follows a different breakdown pathway than other monosaccharides.
- Fructose is first metabolized in the liver before it can get converted to glucose, and along the way it can also be converted into fat and create fatty deposits in the liver. That can lead to Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, a serious metabolic condition linked to obesity and diabetes.
- Another negative affect of breaking down fructose is the production of uric acid – the culprit that causes the painful joints of gout.
- Fructose increases a component of your “bad” cholesterol (VLDL)
- It contributes to insulin resistance, where your muscles and other organs can’t access the energy they need to activate effectively. Insulin resistance is a precursor to diabetes.
Since it makes up half of the sucrose molecule, fructose has always been part of the human diet. But in addition to the 30% boost overall in added sugars that has worsened the health of Americans over the past decades, there’s an additional culprit – high fructose corn syrup.
Manufacturers create high fructose corn syrup because it tastes sweeter than plain old sucrose. They artificially boost the fructose content of corn mash from its natural 50-50 balance with glucose to make it a 55%-45% ratio between the two.
Some authorities say this small difference in fructose content is of little health significance. On the other hand, research shows that countries with minimal use of HFCS (India, Ireland, Sweden, Austria, Uruguay, Lithuania. France, China, Australia, and the UK) have significantly fewer cases of diabetes, even taking into account overall sugar consumption or obesity.
Make an informed choice for you and your family.