In the past 30 years, sugar intake has skyrocketed worldwide. It’s embedded in almost every processed food and drink. Some people call sugar a toxin or a poison. When taken in large amounts, it fuels obesity, diabetes and conditions that lead to heart disease.
Triglycerides and metabolic syndrome
Sweeteners, such as refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup contain fructose. When your diet consists of large amounts of sugar, large quantities of fructose reach the liver. Over time, if your diet remains unchanged, triglycerides (circulating blood fat) and unhealthy cholesterol go up, blood pressure goes up and body cells can’t respond to insulin. When these reactions occur, metabolic syndrome sets in. Some people are genetically predisposed to the syndrome. Some develop it through lifestyle and diet.
What about fructose in fruit?
Fructose is the natural sugar in many fruits. When we eat fruit, the fructose is diluted with the water and fibre of the fruit, so the amount of fructose is less than the fructose in sweeteners. Also, the fibre in the fruit slows down the absorption of fructose in the bloodstream, so the liver is receiving fructose more slowly and in smaller doses. Fresh fruit has vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Sweeteners have NO nutritional value –they offer nothing but empty calories. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that we should overindulge in fruit. All foods, including fruit, should be eaten in moderation and our choices among the food groups should be varied and balanced.
What to do
You can’t eliminate sugar but you can consume fewer sugars and substitutes. The Heart Disease Health Centre quotes the following from nutrition professor Rachel K. Johnson, PhD : “Anyone who wants to limit the sugar in their diet should start by examining what they drink”. This makes sense since heavily processed drinks tend to be very high in fructose and liquid fructose hits the liver at higher speed than food-mixed fructose.
A basic rule is to avoid processed foods and drinks. Base your diet on whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean meats or fish. The American Heart Association recommends a daily limit of 30 gm (6 teaspoons) of sugar for women and 45 gm (9 teaspoons) for men.
Read food labels and watch out for words with “syrup” or “sweetener” and “evaporated cane juice” and words that end with “ose”– as in dextrose, fructose or sucrose.