You’ve probably heard over and over again about how we should all be eating less sugar. What experts generally mean is that we should be eating less added sugar. That’s the additional sugar in foods to make them taste sweeter, like the sugar in chocolate chip cookies or the processed syrup you pour on your pancakes.
Added sugar is different from the sugar that naturally occurs in foods like fruits and vegetables. Fruits are loaded with vitamins, minerals and nutrients, and the naturally occurring sugar in fruits is primarily fructose, which behaves differently in our bodies than glucose or sucrose.
Sucrose, aka table sugar, is a highly processed sugar that has all the nutrients stripped out of it through the refining process. When consumed it can cause an insulin response to help the body digest and transform it into energy. Too much of it and that energy is stored as fat and may lead to diabetes.
Glucose is a simple sugar that feeds our muscles when we need quick energy, like during a run or workout. It comes mainly from starch sources, like corn, rice or potatoes. Again, excess consumption can cause negative health effects.
Fructose, as you might guess, is the sugar found in fruits and veggies. It does not cause an insulin spike, like sucrose and glucose, because it is processed differently in the bloodstream.
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is a manufactured fructose from corn. Corn, as mentioned before, is not a natural source of fructose. HFCS is a highly processed fructose that was engineered in the 1970’s to mimic table sugar.
Fructose from fruits and vegetables is a natural sugar, created by nature. They are sugars that can be easily digested and converted into sustainable energy for our bodies. Also, when you eat fruit, you’re consuming fiber and all those nutrients, which are essential for good health. The takeaway? Don’t worry about things like whole fruit or plain dairy (like milk or unsweetened yogurt). Similarly, look for juices from whole fruits and vegetables which contain the fiber and nutrients our bodies need for optimal health. Sources of added sugar like desserts, sugary drinks or packaged foods are the ones you need to limit or eliminate from your diet.