‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’ is often referred to when it comes to diet and health. But this old saying may not be as relevant to some people due to our modern heavily sugar supplemented diet.
Throughout history we’ve only ever consumed a small amount of sugar. Seasonal ripe fruit rich in fructose picked straight from the tree was the desired amount.
Our ancestors waved goodbye to the sugary desserts and overly sweet treats and thrived from starchy vegetables bursting in energy releasing glucose.
It’s funny how the tables have turned in the twenty-first century. It’s like we’ve become addicted to the hit of sugar and fruit juicing.
What is fructose?
Let’s get down to the basics, fructose is a simple sugar found in many plants, tree and vine fruits, flowers, honey, berries and most root vegetables. Fructose is easily confused with glucose, also a naturally occurring simple sugar, found in starchy vegetables. Glucose is produced by the body and essential to the body and many of it's important functions. This simple sugar provides the energy needed to perform specialized processes such as digestion and cellular respiration.
The difference between fructose and glucose is in its metabolism within our bodies. Whilst glucose is easily metabolised and used for energy throughout the entire body, fructose is harder to metabolise and can only be done within our liver.
With an abundance of fructose passing through our lips in the form of an over abundance of fruit juices this can put a strain on our hard working livers and result in fructose metabolising into fat.
Although this fat replenishes our glycogen and triglyceride stores, the primary store is stored as fat in the body. Because sugar is in everything, even natural and healthy foods, it’s hard to understand the ramifications of eating too much.
We all want to be healthy, and often by doing this we up our intake of fruit. It’s wonderful to enjoy a sweet juicy peach in season but many mass produced fruit juices could potentially be doing damage to our precious livers when taken in excess. Fruits are glorious and packed full of nutrients, minerals, vitamins and fibre so they shouldn't be avoided, but they can be detrimental in large quantities such as over juicing.
What does too much fructose do in our bodies?
When too much fructose enters the liver it kicks off a series of complex chemical transformations, tiny fat droplets begin to accumulate in the liver cells, a process called lipogenesis. This buildup of fat causes fatty liver disease.
Before the production of High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in the 1960’s, a commonly produced sweetener which has been stripped of all nutrients, fatty liver disease derived from fructose was barely known. Now it affects up to 30% of adults in the United States and other developmental countries, and between 70% and 90% of those are obese or have diabetes.
Are you consuming too much fructose?
That is the question is on many lips.
One thing we do know is that fructose intolerance is on the rise. With so much sugar passing through our blood stream it’s easy to for our bodies to suffer, even if you’re slim, fit and healthy.
Another problem is sport drinks. When swapping over from soda to sports drinks, these little switches could be further adding to a fructose problem. With the average energy drink containing 50 grams of fructose per 1000ml, you’re quickly increasing your intake.
What is fructose malabsorption?
Fructose malabsorption is a common digestive disorder in which absorption of fructose (or other sugars like lactose or sorbitol) in the small intestine is impaired.
I can rear it’s ugly head in a few ways, from bloating, abdominal cramps and pains, diarrhoea, constipation, increased intestinal sounds and gas production, acid reflux, nausea or vomiting.
Unfortunately, if you suffer from Irritable Bowel Symptom (IBS), then you’re even more likely to recognise these symptoms. With a staggering 70% of IBS patients suffering with an intolerance to fructose.
Did you know that studies suggest that depression can be more common in adults with fructose malabsorption?
What’s the next step?
If this is all sounding far too familiar then it’s time to take a little inspired action.
With such a huge focus on being healthy in the media what actually constitutes the recommended amount of fruit per day? Eat For Health.gov.au recommends two servings a day which is sufficient to retain the vital dose of nutrients.
If you do suffer from fructose intolerance or fructose malabsorption, and want to keep the bloating at bay you might want to reduce this to one piece of fruit a day. Remember, vegetables such as cucumber, spinach and zucchini are significantly lower in fructose than fruit. Including these refreshing green vegetables into your diet is a great way to ensure you’re still getting a good range of nutrients.
Here’s a tip for you, it’s been shown that if you have a small portion of fruit after a meal your body can tolerate the fructose a lot better than a single dose on an empty stomach.
So if going cold turkey on the mangoes is too much, then enjoy some after lunch for a satisfying hit of sweetness!
Reducing short chain carbohydrates is also a way forward. Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols (FODMAPS) are sugars found in these short-chain carbohydrates which are poorly absorbed in the small intestine and reach the large intestine where they produce gas and attract water.
Creating the right balance
The right balance is to eat everything in moderation, but with the combination of a reduction in FODMAPS and fructose you’re well on your way to fructose-intolerance free life a life free of pain and a distended belly!