The other night 60 Minutes featured a segment, “Is Sugar Toxic”, revealing the danger of sugar and the impact fructose is having on our health. It was very informative and from the response I’ve seen to it on Facebook over the past few days I think it was eye-opening for a lot of people.
Sugar is a topic I talk about a lot on my blog, but today I thought I’d go into a little more detail on why I feel so strongly about limiting the amount of sugar my family consumes. Let me start by giving a little comparison about sugar consumption. In the 1800′s-early 1900′s, Americans consumed an average of 15 grams (2.5 teaspoons of fructose/day) and most of that fructose came from fruit. Today the average American adolescent consumes and average of 73 grams (18.25 teaspoons of of fructose/day) and the average American adult consumes 55 grams (13.75 teaspoons of fructose/day). That’s a 733% increase in fructose consumption!! In the past twenty years obesity rates have doubled for adults and tripled for children. Today 1 in 3 kids are obese and 40% of children are overweight. There has also been a dramatic increase in the number of children diagnosed with hypertension, asthma, type II diabetes, sleep apnea and gallstones.
How did we go from a nation that consumed an average of 15 grams of fructose/day to a nation consuming 55 – 73 grams/day? Many doctors and researchers are pointing to the “low fat diet” craze that swept the nation in the late 1980′s and early 1990′s. What happened during that time period is that food manufacturers were replacing fat with increasing amounts of fructose to improve taste. Fructose is high in calories and there is a lot of evidence that suggests is addictive. Combine that with the fact that fructose does not stimulate insulin secretion or leptin, two hormones that affect appetite and satiety, so people don’t feel full after eating a low-fat or fat-free meal. This is great news for food manufacturers because people were consuming more and more of their products because they were still hungry and they thought what they were eating was healthy.
So why is fructose bad? Fructose is “foreign” to our bodies and really has not benefit to our health. In fact, the only organ in our bodies that can break down fructose is the liver. One of the end products of the liver’s conversion of fructose is triglyceride- a form of fat. These triglycerides can build up in the liver wall or they enter the blood stream where they can build up in artery walls. This can damage liver function and it impacts insulin resistance (a precursor to diabetes). In the 60 Minutes segment Dr. Lustig said, “The increase in fructose intake is worrisome because it suspiciously parallels increases in obesity, diabetes, and a new condition called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease that now affects up to one-third of Americans.”
Considering the impact fructose has on our bodies, it seems we should try to limit fructose consumption. It’s hard to do when so many of the food products available at the store are filled with sugar including the obvious; soda, cakes, muffins, cereal etc… but it’s hidden in a lot of unsuspecting foods like ketchup, bbq sauce, pasta sauce, granola bars, and yogurt! It pains me to see yogurt commercials marketing a “healthy” product when there is just as much sugar, if not more, in one container of yogurt as there is in a candy bar. I think most Americans have heard the dangers of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). I’ve even noticed that some food manufacturers are starting to label their products as “No HFCS”. This is a good start, but fructose is fructose! There are a lot of other sweeteners out there that contain the same percentage of fructose concentration as HFCS, if not more. Here’s a breakdown of some of the most common sweeteners:
High-Fructose Corn Syrup & Honey= 55% fructose
Agave Syrup= 56 – 92% fructose (depending on the brand)
Table Sugar & Maple Syrup = 50% fructose
Fructose is also found in fruit and there are some fruits that have more fructose than others. (Apples = 70% fructose, Grapes = 42% fructose, Bananas = 55% fructose, Strawberries = 51.8% fructose) The difference with fruit compared to the sweeteners above is that fruit in it’s natural state (NOT FRUIT JUICE) contains fiber. That means it would be hard to overindulge on fruit (imagine trying to eat 10 oranges in one sitting). However, like I said before, fructose is fructose and there is only one organ in our bodies that can break it down. So consuming fructose, even in the form of fruit, does still give the liver fructose to break down. In no way am I saying that fruit is bad! We all know there are vitamins and minerals in fruit that benefit our bodies, but know that many of those same vitamins and minerals are found in higher concentrations in vegetables. I try to treat fruit as a desert, much like they did in the 1800′s and early 1900′s. If my kids are going to consume fructose I’d much prefer it comes from fruit over sweeteners.
Everything I’ve written above explains why so many of the goods recipes I share call for natural/non-fructose sweeteners. I’m doing my best to limit my family’s fructose intake so it is more in line with what Americans were consuming in the early 1900′s vs. what the average American child is consuming today. I’ll be the first to admit the transition wasn’t easy, but now that we are two years into the process I’m definitely seeing the benefits.
Today’s lunch includes: ham sandwich squares on a skewer with string cheese, venison beef stick, carrots with hummus, homemade chocolate cupcake (no fructose in this yummy desert!) all packed in a Planet Lunch Box