Sugar: when we hear this word, many of us tend to picture the common white table sugar. But did you know there are several different forms of sugar and they have different effects on our bodies? While it is important to decrease sugar consumption in general, there are certain forms that are particularly beneficial to avoid.
Sugar is the largest source of calories for most Americans, especially in the form of high fructose corn syrup. And consumption in America has only increased throughout the generations, drastically. In the 1700s, the average person consumed only about four pounds of sugar per year. By the 1800s, it became about eighteen pounds. Then, by the 1900s, individual consumption of sugar rose to ninety pounds every year. It was reported in 2009 that more than fifty percent of Americans take in a half pound of sugar daily, which is approximately 180 pounds of sugar a year!
As this statistic shows, we are bombarded with sugar. From sugar-laden sweet treats to soft drinks, and even to foods like ketchup or lunch meats, it is clear that sugar is hard to avoid, making our current obesity problem no surprise. As we see the intake of sugar increase, we’ve seen a proportional increase in weight gain and obesity. We’ve also seen a drastic rise in heart disease, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, and other lifestyle diseases. The correlation is clear—as we continue to increase our consumption of sugar, we can expect to experience negative health effects.
But not all sugars are equal. Knowing the difference between sugars, including which ones are most detrimental to health, is important in making the best choices for your health.
Glucose is the primary sugar our bodies were designed to run on; other forms of sugar are broken down in the body into glucose for the body to use for energy. Each cell of the body, including the brain, runs off of glucose. But in our country today, the form of sugar known as fructose has become the sweetener of choice (previously it used to be the sugar sucrose). This is a problem.
Because high fructose corn syrup is so cheap to make and because it’s so stable, it is very commonly added to all sorts of processed foods today. The food industry started switching from sucrose to corn syrup in the 1970s when they found that corn syrup was not only cheaper but also far sweeter than the traditional white sugar. As a result of this switch, high fructose corn syrup can be found in a range of products, including condiments and sauces, soft drinks, sports drinks, candy, baked goods, and even sandwich meats. In this processed form it is especially harmful as these manufactured foods have their fiber removed and most, if not all, of their beneficial nutrients destroyed.
Fructose is a food ingredient littered everywhere in our food supply. We’re getting an abundance of fructose not only from high fructose corn syrup, but also other sources such as agave nectar, fruit juices, honey, and fruit. But why is this a problem? Fructose itself is not a bad thing; after all, it’s the sugar found in a number of natural foods, like fruit. The problem is when you have fructose, especially processed forms like high fructose corn syrup, in large doses—that makes it particularly harmful.
If the only fructose you consumed came from fruits and vegetables (meaning that you only got fructose coming from its natural form), you’d eat approximately fifteen grams per day. When consumed in its natural state, the body also receives fiber, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. Today, with all of the added, processed fructose, the average person is consuming about 73 grams of fructose daily, with most or all of the fiber and nutrients removed!
The body also metabolizes fructose differently than it does the other sugars. Because the fructose and glucose molecules found in high fructose corn syrup are not bound together, like they are in sucrose, your body doesn’t have to break it down, so it’s quickly absorbed and goes straight to the liver, overburdening it. Glucose, on the other hand, is immediately used for energy, and so there is no real burden on the liver.
Large doses of processed fructose can cause metabolic distress and specifically lead to weight gain (particularly in the stomach region), gout, insulin resistance, and hypertension. This sugar also doesn’t stimulate a rise in leptin, a chemical involved in signaling the brain that you are full and satisfied. Therefore, high fructose foods tend to increase appetite and lead to increased calorie consumption. Glucose, on the other hand, suppresses the hormone known as ghrelin, the hormone that makes you want more food.
The point to be made is that fructose, mainly in its processed form, has far more negative health effects than does glucose or sucrose. Taking care to only consume fructose in its natural state will ensure that we are not taking in far more than nature ever intended, overloading our livers, and creating further health problems. The simplest way to improve your health and prevent disease is to not only keep sugar consumption low, but to avoid high fructose foods in particular!
Some healthy corn syrup alternatives include:
- Organic, pure grade B maple syrup
- Raw honey
- Yacon syrup
- Homemade date syrup
- Raw cane juice crystals