You may call your loved one sugar because he/she’s sweet and, just as feel good hormones in love, sugar is also addictive. But not all sugars are created equal. Your regular table sugar, sucrose, made of 1:1 of glucose and fructose. These sugars are called carbohydrates while complex carbohydrates would be longer chains such as you would find in grains and legumes and are commonly called starches.
So what’s the big difference between fructose and glucose? Fructose is a fruit sugar and therefore good right? Well when consumed together with the whole food containing it you get other nutrients and loads of fibre which are balancing factors. Fructose gets absorbed rapidly but the process slows down with fibre present, balancing itself out. Just a few decades ago it was taught that fructose is a better option and completely safe for diabetics, as it doesn’t spike the blood sugar as glucose does. The thing is that glucose can instantly be used by the body. The brain and cells use it as fuel (excess gets stored by insulin as fat reserves) but fructose, although not raising blood sugar quite as high, has a different pathway and it needs to be metabolized through the liver. It is the overflow of fructose that gets piled on in the liver causing non-alcoholic fatty liver. Fat was the main boogie man until recently and, since things lose their taste if you take all of the fat out, low-fat or non-fat almost certainly means you’ll get the flavour of the foods in some other way – more sugar – and the food producer can still stick a non-fat label on it and make you buy more. It’s not just any sugar that is added in modern food processing. It’s the high fructose corn syrup. The difference between regular table sugar and high fructose corn syrup seems meaningless at first. Instead of the 50-50 distribution of glucose and fructose, in high fructose corn syrup you get 55% fructose. Doesn’t seem like a big deal. But this stuff is way cheaper to produce, it prolongs shelf life, it’s sweeter than glucose, keeps the bread soft for weeks and all sorts of other nifty trick that processed food production loves so, as it is cheaper, they can put more of it in the food and you’re actually consuming much more sugar in total than your body needs. Even if you ate all the fruit you wanted 50 years ago you would get to about 20 grams of fructose max, but today this has increased three fold.
A large difference between glucose and fructose is the breakdown channel – the liver – which results in higher triglycerides. The key difference between glucose and fructose is that, while breaking down glucose, the body will tell you when you had enough. On the other hand, the liver can just keep breaking down fructose ad infinitum without ever sending the full signal. That’s good business for processed food manufacturers but bad news for you. Fructose never gets you full and you feel no difference if you’ve drank water with a meal or the same amount of high fructose corn syrup packed soda, although you’ve taken in extra 500 calories. There is no satiation since the satiety hormone leptin doesn’t respond to fructose. So you eat more sugar, get hungry sooner due to cravings and eat more of other foods as well since leptin gets out of whack. Tests on previously healthy individuals over nine weeks where they’d been given the same amount of calories in glucose and fructose showed that the fructose group got prediabetes, developed insulin resistance, their triglycerides (liver fat) got increased by 80% raising the amount of fat in the liver, HDL falls and LDL rises as well as blood pressure. This applies to most processed sugars and starches but the effects of fructose separated from their fibre and other nutrients has the larger effect than other sugars.
Please, take the time to read the labels on your food. Buy whole foods which don’t need labels as much as you can, avoid sweetened drinks, mind the highly processed pastas, breads, cookies and crackers, employ a fast here and there to cleanse the liver out (liver fat gets depleted first as you switch into fat burning mode by fasting), eat your fruit whole, cook from scratch whenever possible… You already know all of this. We just gave a bit of a chemical background here to inspire you to make a tiny bit better choice every day. Small incremental changes accumulate over time to a life changing event. Eat good food, associate with good people, be good, take care of yourself and others. Even Hippocrates knew we are feeding our diseases.