When it comes to diets, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The fact that there is an ever-increasing number of dietary regimens circulating within society only comes to show how ineffective they all are.
Most of us traverse our way through diets by identifying food groups to avoid and then work our way through the rest of the list to try to strike our personal dietary balance. This involves leaving out and incorporating certain foods based on our biological makeup and lifestyle, and of course, may differ from one individual to another.
In order to achieve this, most dieticians suggest to leave out plain unhealthy foods that serve no benefit to your diet. These include deep-fried foods, potato chips, processed meat, and alcohol, just to name a few. Quite noticeably, one food group that trumps the list is added sugars, and for very good reason.
It’s important to understand that ‘sugars’ generally refer to polysaccharides, which are longer sugar chains formed from their basic monosaccharide building blocks. While the names can be intimidating, it’s nothing more than walls and their essential bricks.
Table sugar, a prime example of added sugar, is made up of 50% fructose and 50% glucose. Glucose is our body’s primary energy source, while fructose undergoes a more extensive metabolism pathway that involves the liver before they are able to be utilised by the body.
Not all fructose, however, is created equal. Naturally occurring fructose can be found in most fruits and vegetables, and although excessive consumptions may still lead to dire outcomes, the benefits that come with vitamins, fibres, and minerals often outset the negatives.
Their refined counterparts, however — those that are commonly found in your sweetened snacks, sugary drinks, and desserts — have a much worse outlook, and there is a barrage of studies and papers to support this.
Whole fruits are relatively less caloric-dense. They’re difficult to overeat on and so one would need to eat an exorbitant amount of fruit to reach harmful levels of fructose. Contrastingly, refined sugars are far more caloric-dense than fruit. This shouldn’t be surprising, considering that their sole purpose is to sweeten an array of different foods and drinks.
One consumes a larger amount of fructose for an equally-weighted chunk of sweetened energy bar than a good old banana. Fruits are a minor source of fructose compared to added sugars.
Inspecting things on a more cellular level, the negative effects of fructose start to really set in in the first organ involved in its metabolism. When people eat a diet that is high in calories and high in fructose, the liver gets overloaded and starts turning the fructose into fat. This is especially true for people who pair this kind of dietary routine with a sedentary lifestyle.
By following this logic structure, excessive consumption of fructose — a sugar — can actually increase fat production and storage. Many scientists believe that this kind of behaviour may be a key driver of many of the most serious diseases of today. These include obesity, type II diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer.
First, scientists were able to outline that fructose isn’t capable of suppressing appetite as much as glucose does. This can potentially lead to overeating, which further tallies up the fructose into your diet and the metabolic damage that comes as baggage. At this point, it’s also important to note that this may add a fair few pounds to your body weight and in severe cases, lead to obesity. Most athletes and bodybuilders know to avoid this food group, which in part explains their physique.
It is thought that fructose may raise the levels of very low-density lipoproteins or VLDLs. These are the worst kind of cholesterol since their low density means they take up more space in your body. This leads to fat accumulation around different organs, mainly your blood vessels, which may clog and increase your risk of heart disease.
In addition to raising your cholesterol levels, fructose can also increase uric acid levels in the blood, which may lead to gout and metabolic syndrome. Through a different pathway, fructose can lead to insulin resistance, obesity, and subsequent type II diabetes.
Fat accumulation in the liver, could on top of that lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which further increases the risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer.
It’s wise to note that most of these studies were performed in animal subjects and therefore still a long way from objectively being able to prove the ill-effects of fructose on the human system. The evidence and theory, however, are there — and they look convincing.
The American Heart Association recommends 100 calories or less from sugar each day for women, and 150 calories or less from sugar each day for men. And the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released in 2015, recommend no more than 10% of daily total calories should come from sugar.
This is certainly a tall order, especially when we take into account the laundry list of sugary foods and drinks that decorate most American homes, but it’s possible. Slowly shifting our daily sugar intake to a fully natural mix of fruits and veggies or switching to sugar-free alternatives could help retain the familiar sweetness that’s home to our tongue and make the transition to a new routine far more welcoming.