Fructose is found naturally in fruits and vegetables, so is it bad for us? Well, yes and no. It all depends on the fiber. And that is where things have gone wrong for fructose. You may be familiar with fructose as it has been in health news as high fructose corn syrup. So let’s determine five things you should know about fructose so you can make educated decisions about what foods work best for you.
1. Fructose is found in whole plant foods
Fructose can be damaging. There is a great deal of research out there pointing to the dangers of too much fructose. But how can it be harmful if it is part of our natural food supply? And the short answer to that is — it seems just fine for us to eat it in its natural form, in whole foods.
The problem comes when it is refined and changed to other forms. We have all heard about high fructose corn syrup and it is definitely derived from corn, which was the original whole food that surrounded the fructose with fiber and nutrients. What happens in the body is that fructose must be broken down in the liver and if there is too much fructose, it can damage the liver and lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is a great deal like the damage from long term alcoholism.
But why not with fruits? Fructose derives its name from fruit, because it is the prevalent sugar in fruits. There are a couple of schools of thought here and they are opposite of one another– limit or abstain from fruit or don’t worry about it and eat to your heart’s content. And that conflicting information leads us to throw up our arms and just do whatever we feel like doing. And I think that answer is somewhere in the middle.
Personally, I don’t think you can eat enough fruit to cause an overload in the liver. It is really hard to eat this much fruit at one time. Here is an excerpt from a great article that shares how much of these fruits you would have to eat to get the same amounts of fructose as a standard 20 oz soda:
“Bananas: 1 medium banana has 105 calories, and 7.1 grams of fructose. You’d have to eat 2-1/4 bananas to get to 240 calories, but more importantly, you’d have to eat 5 bananas to get the same dose of fructose as a 20 oz. soda.
Strawberries: 1 cup of strawberries has 49 calories, and 4.1 grams of fructose. You’d have to eat almost 5 cups of strawberries to get to 240 calories, but more importantly, you’d have to eat nearly 9 cups of strawberries to get the same dose of fructose as a 20 oz. soda.
Cherries: 1 cherry has 5 calories, and 0.4 grams of fructose. You would have to eat 48 cherries to get to 240 calories, but more importantly, you’d have to eat 89 cherries to get the same dose of fructose as a 20 oz. soda.
Apples: 1 medium apple has 95 calories, and 12.6 grams of fructose. You would have to eat 2-1/2 apples to get to 240 calories, but more importantly, you’d have to eat almost 3 apples to get the same dose of fructose as a 20 oz. soda.”
You can read the rest of this interesting article here. So I believe day after day after day of consuming 9 cups of strawberries would be really difficult to do– and think of all the other amazing benefits you would receive from the strawberries that would be missing from the soda, so I think it is safe to say that fructose from whole foods is not a bad choice, in fact it is a great choice to quench the sugar desires.
2. Table sugar is half fructose.
Sucrose is the scientific name for table sugar. It is classified as a disaccharide, which means it is composed of two different simple sugars, glucose and fructose. When both of these are consumed together (as sugar) then it can create more damage than each of them would by themselves. According to this healthline article:
“The presence of glucose increases the amount of fructose that is absorbed and also stimulates the release of insulin. This means that more fructose is used to create fat, compared to when this type of sugar is eaten alone. Therefore, eating fructose and glucose together may harm your health more than eating them separately. This may explain why added sugars like high-fructose corn syrup are linked to various health issues.”
I figure you have already heard that sugar is bad for us. Most of the information out there does refer to both table sugar and fructose. The average American eats around 175 pounds of sugar a year. That seems hard to imagine. That’s seven of the really huge bags from a warehouse. We ate 4 pounds a year just 100 years ago. It seems to be added to nearly all processed foods. You can see very clearly the astonishing trajectory in this chart from Kamila Sitwell:
- Read more in this article from Ms. Sitwell about our sugar consumption
So the obvious answer is to eat less sugar and a great deal less sugar. And so many of us have committed to making some changes. But did you know that many of our popular sweeteners are full of processed fructose? Let’s take a look at these readily available sweeteners.
3. Fructose is found in most sweeteners.
The list of sweeteners that contain fructose is long. And some of them may surprise you! But here is an easy list that you can file away in your memory or keep handy when you are shopping so that you are aware of what you are buying and consuming.
- Agave syrup
- Corn syrup
- High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
- Invert sugar
- Isomalt (E 953)
- Maltitol (E 965)
- Mannitol (E 421)
- Maple syrup
- Palm sugar
- Sorbitol (E 420)
4. There are fruits that are low in fructose
Even though I feel like eating fruits are a healthy option, you personally may want to avoid fruits that are higher in fructose sugar. So here are some lower fructose fruits for you to choose from:
Strawberries: Really high in Vitamin C and anthocyanins, both of which are powerful cancer fighters
Peaches: What a treat! High in minerals like potassium and copper. Also high in Vitamins A and C.
Blackberries: Berries are a low sugar and high nutrient food. Loads of antioxidants and fiber.
Lemons and Limes: Not sweet, but full of nutrition. Packed with folate and minerals
Honeydew: Surprised? It seems so sweet! Great source of VItamin B6 and Vitamin C as well as minerals.
If you are diabetic or fructose intolerant, these are the best fruits to start out with. But it is really interesting– there are studies out there that show that fruits, all fruits, do not create the same peak and valley insulin activity as processed sugars and foods devoid of fiber and nutrients. Fruit is a great way to transition to a whole food plant based diet and there are so many choices that you’ll never tire of eating them! It’s a buffet of sweet goodness out there and it’s fun and exciting to choose something bright and colorful.
5. There is no fructose in whole grains
There is no fructose in starch, hence the name fructose. Whole grains are starches, which have gotten an very bad rap as of late. What is surprising to many folks is that there are tons of people out there who have lost weight and maintained a healthy lifestyle while eating a higher carb diet. Certainly I did, with no problems at all. Complex carbohydrates, like whole grains and beans, are very filling and slow burn. In my nutritional programs, I do have clients limit whole grains at first, but it is not because I believe they are bad for the body. I believe many people are addicted to the glucose/insulin spike that occurs in their bodies throughout the day, so it becomes a characteristic way of eating. Breaking that habit opens up a world of beautiful grains, potatoes and beans.
So what are the best whole grains to consume? My only caveat lately has been the studies on rice. It seems that there is a strong link between arsenic in our bodies and rice consumption. Do your own research and make your own conclusions, but for now, I consume rice in scant moderation. I truly enjoy rice, but I am unsure of the long term effects. So here is my list of goodies for the best whole grains:
- Brown Basmati Rice
- Wild Rice
- Whole Oats
The most important lesson about fructose
This is really the same lesson that is being shown to us in so many different areas of our health. Processed food poses our largest health risks today. When we change a food from its natural state, we take away value. Our bodies are made for whole foods that come directly from nature and God’s beautiful earth. When we strip away the hulls of grains, juice a fruit and remove its fiber, or crystallize grains and beets into sugar, we have changed how our bodies use those foods. Fructose is not necessarily the enemy– it is the processing. Sweets are naturally attractive to us, and when we eat processed treats, we are tricking our bodies. Disease is inevitable. Enjoy a diet of whole foods for our best, happiest selves.
Would you like to know more about how to easily transition to a whole food, plant based diet? Most people are confused about carbs, about how to care for ourselves through nutrition. Check out my wellness plan that really, genuinely starts where you are. The answers are all inside of you, as you educate yourself and open communication. Learn to listen to our bodies and create a masterful plan for the best health for life! Check it out below and I wish you the best day of your life. Thanks for reading! Comment below and share if you enjoyed reading this article.