For years, many nutritionists, health practitioners, and even chemists told us all types of sugar are the same. They said whether you eat an apple or a cookie, you metabolize it the same way.
Now we know they were wrong. Terribly wrong.
Natural fructose, the sugar found in fruit, isn’t something you should avoid. In fact, it has five key health benefits:
1. A little fructose goes a long way
Fructose is Nature’s natural sweetener. And you don’t need a lot of it to satisfy a “sweet tooth.” Just one apple or a handful of strawberries can soothe that post-meal craving for something sweet.
2. Fruit lowers disease risk
Every study over the past century on diet and chronic disease links higher vegetable and fruit consumption with lower risks of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and other conditions. Keeping fruit a regular part of your daily diet can help you fight off the most deadly diseases of our time.
3. Fructose boosts liver function
Fructose doesn’t present the same metabolic hazards as sucrose (table sugar). In fact, fructose appears to have a catalytic effect in the liver on sugar metabolism, which helps diabetics utilize glucose more efficiently. During the 20th century, experts considered fructose a harmless sweetener. And it was actually marketed as “diabetic sugar.” From 1979 to 2001, the American Diabetes Association even recommended it as an alternative to other sugars.
4. Fructose doesn’t cause insulin spikes
Fructose appears to bypass the body’s insulin responses associated with metabolic syndrome and Type II diabetes. In fact, compared to sucrose (table sugar) and glucose (natural corn syrup), it invokes a much lower insulin response. And it has a “glycemic index” of only 20 compared to 65 for sucrose and 100 for glucose.
5. Fructose lowers A1C
The August 2017 issue of American Journal of Clinical Nutrition included a pair of studies that support the benefits of fructose. Turns out, substituting fructose for glucose did not increase blood triglyceride metabolites. But it did lower fasting blood sugar levels as well as hemoglobin A1C levels, the important, long-term measure of blood sugar. So, modern medical advice to avoid fruit consumption is just plain scientific ignorance.
Despite these benefits, many consumers have the wrong idea about fructose…
2004 study confuses consumers
In a 2004 study, published here again in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers proclaimed that, “consumption of high-fructose corn syrup beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity.” And the study became one of the most widely cited in modern medicine.
Unfortunately, many people (and even experts) don’t read past the headlines. As a result, many people started avoiding fruit because they associated fructose with obesity.
However, high-fructose corn syrup, versus natural fructose as found in fruit, couldn’t behave more differently in the body, as I explained a moment ago.
Indeed, even the name “high-fructose” corn syrup is a misleading misnomer.
Manufacturers artificially add some fructose to corn syrup, because corn syrup naturally contains none of it. This addition allows them to call it “high-fructose” corn syrup. But it’s only high in fructose relative to zero fructose.
Fruit is a natural part of the human diet
My training as a medical anthropologist leads me to take the long view on fruit consumption. And in my view, humans are programmed to eat fructose, as naturally present in fruits. Fruits have been available for human consumption since “the beginning of time,” as part of the original Paleo diet. In fact, before the “pop” Paleo diet caught on, I made this point to researchers at the National Cancer Institute more than 30 years ago.
Now, let’s take this point a step further…
Humans are also omnivores, designed to eat a wide variety of foods. So, it goes against common sense and science to try to single out any one dietary component — like fats, animal protein or fruit sugar — as the universal cause or cure of disease. If anything, I would single out sucrose sugar, wheat and other refined grains as the cause of obesity, as I explain in the current issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter (if you’re not a subscriber, now is the perfect time to sign up).
By contrast, sucrose from sugar cane only entered the human diet about 1,000 years ago. It originally came from an isolated area of New Guinea, but it quickly spread around the globe to Asia, Europe and the Americas.
As we commemorate Columbus Day today (if this holiday is still permitted where you live), keep in mind that sugar did not bring Columbus to the Americas. But it quickly became a strong reason to keep the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French, and English in the Americas, conducting the slave trade.
Aside from slavery, cultivation of sugar cane powerfully contributed to infectious disease epidemics, colonialism and other global economic and political ills. And today, it’s a major contributor to the chronic diseases we currently face in epidemic proportions.
So if you want to protect yourself from the dangers of unhealthy sugars and prevent chronic disease, here are a few rules of thumb to help you navigate the grocery store aisles:
1. Avoid processed foods like candy, cereal, cookies, ice cream, pastry, and sodas that contain loads of sucrose.
2. Avoid foods and beverages with “added sugar” or artificial sweeteners as well. Instead, if you want to sweeten a dish, opt for honey with all its benefits for the immune system. Or sprinkle it with some fresh berries.
3. Dried fruits and jams contain concentrated amounts of fructose, so it’s best to avoid them.
4. Keep food made with “high-fructose” corn syrup — like ketchup, relish, tomato sauce, and salad dressings — out of your grocery cart.
Overall, strive to eat three to four servings of fresh fruit per day. A medium-sized apple has 12 to 13 grams of fructose. And a total fructose intake of 50 grams per day should be fine for anyone.
You should also eat the recommended nine servings of fruits and vegetables every day — which would be hard to achieve without eating the fruits
So this fall, go ahead and enjoy all the fruits (and vegetables) depicted in the cornucopia or “horn of plenty.”