If used wisely, fructose can add sweetness to your diet without adding pounds to your body. Fructose is a single-molecule sugar found in honey, molasses, vegetables and fruits. As it’s absorbed into the bloodstream, fructose in small amounts provides a moderate, steady release of energy. Boasting the lowest glycemic index of all the sugars, fructose can be a smart choice for weight-conscious people who are trying to keep their blood sugar stable as they work and exercise.
Too Much of a Sweet Thing
Because fructose is the sweetest of the sugars and blends well with other carbohydrates, it’s become a popular sweetener in commercial food production. But refined forms of fructose, in the amounts that many processed foods contain, can devastate a healthy diet. High-fructose corn syrup is the most common culprit, packing a caloric wallop. Soft drinks, condiments, candies and even breads are often loaded with this blend of refined fructose and glucose. A 2010 study indicates that high-fructose corn syrup, because of its chemical composition and its metabolic conversion to fat, may generate more rapid weight gain than other sweeteners. Fructose is processed in the liver, which converts excessive amounts of this sugar into triglycerides. Released into the blood as fats, triglycerides at high levels lead to the accumulation of abdominal fat, compromise cardiac health, and promote the risk of diabetes and cancer.
Fructose is used in many low-fat products to enhance sweetness and boost flavor. Dieters may be misled by “low-fat” desserts, coffee creamers or salad dressings that contain high-fructose corn syrup. Because the body stores excessive amounts of fructose as fat, using these products regularly can lead to weight gain. High amounts of fructose can trigger sugar cravings, especially when consumed on an empty stomach. Excessive use of fructose may make the body resistant to leptin, an enzyme that stimulates the satiety signal, letting your mind know that you’ve had enough to eat.
Small amounts of fructose, combined with proteins and fats, generate a gradual energy surge. To maintain a healthy weight and a steady energy level, aim for no more than 50 grams of fructose per day. Strawberries, bananas and melons contain between 2 and 5 grams of fructose per serving. Honey, spoonful for spoonful, contains as much fructose as high-fructose corn syrup, so use it sparingly. Focus on vegetables and fruits, which are rich in fiber and vitamins. A bowl of unsweetened yogurt with strawberries, nuts and a drizzle of honey can satisfy your sweet tooth without leaving you in a sugar slump. When you’re physically and mentally energized, it’s easier to stick to your nutritional plan and stay on track with your exercise and weight loss goals.
Read the Fine Print
Read the labels on any packaged foods that you buy, and be alert to hidden fructose (look for the acronym HFCS, which stands for high-fructose corn syrup). A tour of the products in your kitchen or supermarket will prove how much added fructose many foods and beverages contain. Any product that lists corn syrup as the first or second ingredient is probably a high-calorie, crash-inducing source of sugar. As your taste buds adjust to more subtle forms of sweetness, you’ll find that your craving for refined sugar decreases. Your weight will benefit from natural, fiber-rich sources of fructose that sustain your energy throughout the day.