What’s the deal with sugar?

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: all sugar is created equal. This is true in principle – the glucose, fructose, and sucrose found in sugar cubes or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) are the same molecules as the glucose, fructose, and sucrose in honey, fruit, and starchy vegetables. The chemistry is all the same. 

But just because everything is the same at the molecular level does not mean that your body will use each kind of sugar in the same way. In this article, I’ll show you why you should care about the kind of sugar you put in your body. 

Fructose versus high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)

Fructose is a simple sugar molecule with it’s own chemical structure, and HFCS is a mixture of fructose with glucose in a more or less 1:1 ratio. 

Does fructose cause type 2 diabetes?

Lately fructose has gotten some bad press. Scary studies conducted on animals showed that fructose administration can cause dyslipidemia, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, insulin resistance, and even Type 2 Diabetes. But, how often does anyone eat huge quantities of pure fructose? Not often. Fructose is not found in isolation in nature or even in our own reductive food supply. These studies are irrelevant at best and misleading at worst. 

In other words, pure fructose affects the body in very different ways than the fructose in sugar or HFCS. Fructose in isoloation can cause type 2 diabetes, but unless you are going to a lab to be tested on for a study, you aren’t going to find fructose in isolation anywhere else. 

Fruit: a dangerous shot of sugar?

If fruit contains sugar and carbs, should we avoid it? You probably know that eating an apple is better than eating a bag of jelly beans, but fruit is still seen as a source of sugar and therefore labeled “bad.” Especially in the Paleo or low-carb communities, the idea is that “sugar is sugar,” and you just shouldn’t eat it. While the chemical properties of sugar are indeed the same, how sugar is metabolized really depends on how it was made and other nutrient elements present in the food. 

First of all, have you ever heard of anyone binging on peaches? Probably not, but you most likely have heard of people bingeing on candy. The fiber and water found in whole fruit increases satiety, which means you are less likely to eat an excessive amount calorically. And even for those people that do get a significant portion of their calories from fruit, such as in traditional cultures like the Kuna, their bodies remain lean and healthy. Studies going back more than forty years have proven that fruit can be a part of a healthy diet, and countless people are living examples of that proof across the globe. 

But what about those animals that experienced adverse reactions to consumption of fructose? Many studies have proven the health hazards of fructose in isolation, but all studies on whole fruit show that eating fresh fruit may actually decrease the risk of obesity and diabetes. For most people, 3-5 servings of fruit a day is ideal, although some people who already have insulin resistance, diabetes, or metabolic syndrome see improvements in their symptoms from restricting fruit intake. In other words, the fiber, water, and other nutrient elements in fruit mean that the fructose in whole fruit is processed completely differently than the fructose isolated in the lab for testing on animals. 

Why you shouldn’t drink your sugar

Countless studies show that drinking your sugar is very harmful, predominantly because most people fail to reduce the calories of sugar they eat when they increase the calories of sugar they drink. For example, a study of 323 adults found that those who did increase the calories of sugar they drank did not decrease their overall caloric consumption of sugar from other sources. What’s the take home message here? It’s easier for us to limit sugar we eat. All sugar is not created equal, and this is also applicable to the amounts of sugar we consume based on how it is packaged- either as a solid or a liquid. 

Would bees know the difference between real and fake honey?

Although artificial honey is the same chemically as real honey, the metabolic effects are absolutely different. In one study, real honey helped to decrease triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, increased HDL cholesterol, and even decreased plasma homocysteine- all good things. Artificial honey used on the same subjects, on the other hand, raised the triglycerides and LDL cholesterol. In other words, bees and certainly your very own body can tell the difference between the real deal and the fake stuff. 

All sugar is not created equal

I hope I’ve demonstrated that the phrase “sugar is sugar” is completely inaccurate. The source of sugar does make a difference, and we need to be careful about demonizing foods that don’t deserve it. We also need to make sure that we don’t glorify cheap knock-off’s of the real deal, like honey. I hope this article helps you to make the best decision for yourself when it comes to sweeteners.

Please call 734-726-0153 to schedule a free consultation and evaluation. At Digestive Health Ann Arbor we are known for providing professional and compassionate care. We strive to guide people towards a comprehensive and holistic healing strategy. Restoring your body to health will restore the quality of your life.