The Difference in How Fructose and Glucose Affect Your Body
Sugars come from many different sources and they affect our bodies in different ways. If you’re reading an ingredient label, and it ends in “ose,” it’s probably a type of sugar. But are all sugars bad?
Today we’re going to examine fructose vs glucose, and how they affect the body. So, is glucose better than fructose? Let’s find out!
Fructose occurs naturally in fruits, giving them their sweetness. Because of this, many people consider fructose “natural,” and assume that all fructose products are healthier than other types of sugar. Likewise, fructose has a low glycemic index, meaning it has minimal impact on blood glucose levels. This has made it a popular sweetener with people on low-carbohydrate and low-glycemic diets, which aim to minimize blood glucose levels in order to minimize insulin release. But the glycemic index is not the sole determining factor in whether a sweetener is “healthy” or desirable to use.
Fruits actually contain small amounts of fructose, which allows for the body to process it efficiently. If people continued to eat fructose only in fruit and occasionally honey as our ancestors did, the body would easily process it without any problems. Unfortunately, the traditional Western diet is extremely high in fructose, which is present in many processed foods, soda pop, baked goods, crackers, canned goods, and many others. The result is a toxic load.
According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, fructose intake has increased dramatically in the past few decades. The problem with fructose is that when you consume large amounts of it in its concentrated form (agave, crystalline fructose, high-fructose corn syrup), it goes straight to your liver, avoiding the gastrointestinal tract altogether. This places a heavy toxic load on your liver, which must work very hard to process it, sometimes resulting in scarring. Additionally, fructose is converted by the liver into glycerol, which can raise levels of triglycerides. High triglycerides are linked to increased risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease. According to the AJCN article cited above, “hepatic (liver) metabolism of fructose thus favors lipogenesis.”
High fructose intake has been associated with:
- Increased levels of circulating blood lipids
- Fat around the middle
- Lowered HDL
- Increased levels of uric acid (associated with gout and heart disease)
- Liver scarring (cirrhosis)
- Fatty liver
- The formation of AGE’s (advanced end glycation products), which can lead to wrinkling and other signs of skin aging
- Some studies show that fructose creates AGE’s up to 10 times more efficiently than glucose
Another sweetener that I’m not a fan of is agave. Marketing makes the general public think that agave is a “healthy” sweetener, and it continues to be used in “health” products. Agave is very high in fructose (up to 97% fructose), and is a BIG enemy to health and beauty.
Avoid agave, agave-containing products, and restaurant dishes that include agave in their ingredient list. Learn more about the hidden dangers of agave.
Bottom line: A little fruit is just fine – it contains small amounts of fructose the body can easily metabolize. Concentrated fructose in HFCS, agave, and crystallized fructose on the other hand, can cause a real health problem and should be avoided.
Another type of simple sugar is glucose, which is the most common form of carbohydrate. It is derived from starches. When you eat starches, your body converts them to glucose, which raises blood sugar levels and supplies your body with energy. Your body metabolizes glucose via the intestinal tract, causing a rise in blood sugar. In order to return your blood sugar to a normal level, the pancreas releases insulin, which is a storage hormone. The insulin binds to the glucose and carries it to the cells that need extra energy, storing any remaining energy in long-term storage (a.k.a. fat cells). Cells that need glucose have insulin receptors that encourage glucose to enter in order to efficiently utilize it.
The problem arises when glucose is continuously high. Eating highly processed foods, simple starches (white flour, white rice), and foods containing sugar elevate blood glucose significantly. For a while, the pancreas can handle this workload; however, over time it becomes exhausted and unable to efficiently release insulin any longer. This can result in the chronically elevated blood glucose levels found in type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome. At the same time, because insulin release is now inefficient, glucose is no longer being delivered to the cells that need it, resulting in cell starvation.
Hyperglycemia over time has been related to:
- Decreased immunity
- Poor wound healing
- Nerve damage
- Kidney failure
- High levels of blood lipids
- Heart attack and stroke
- Peripheral nerve disease
Bottom line: Your body will cull the glucose it needs from complex carbohydrate-rich foods including vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Eating excess levels of starches and simple sugars can break your body’s glucose management mechanism (metabolism), resulting in numerous health problems.
Many people recognize the inherent health risks of sugar and fructose, and thus turn to alternative forms of sweetness. This often occurs in the form of artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose. Unfortunately, these sweeteners have their own health risks, are artificial chemicals, and are neurotoxic.
Artificial sweeteners have been associated with:
- Increased rates of cancer
- Neurological problems
- Brain fog
- Aches and pains
What to Do
So what can you do when you want something sweet?
- Have a piece of fruit, a dried fig or date, or have a smoothie.
- Instead of adding sugar to your coffee or tea, try stevia or xylitol. Stevia is a dried herb and xylitol is a sugar alcohol. Both have a negligible effect on blood sugar levels.
- Instead of agave, use raw coconut nectar (which is only 10% fructose and is rich in minerals and amino acids). Maple syrup is also a better option.
The most important thing I want you to remember is to avoid refined white sugars, agave and artificial sweeteners.
Now that you’re ready to make a conscious effort to remove these sugars from your lifestyle, my 30 Day Road map to Healthy Weight Loss has everything you need for your journey to good health.
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