Why are we doing this again?

>> Sunday, July 13, 2008

Oh yes, the fructose. So what do you do when fructose is listed as a separate ingredient? Since we're giving up HFCS because of the potential problems that consuming loads of fructose might have, right now I'm taking the tack of giving up foods with fructose as an ingredient too. A healthy diet shouldn't have too much of any sugar, but fructose in particular gives me the willies because our bodies seem to have a difficult time metabolizing it. High fructose consumption has been linked to diabetes, high triglycerides, and bone loss. Here are a couple of article excerpts that go into a bit of detail about fructose problems:

a Washington Post article (see second article in this compilation: http://www.menstuff.org/issues/byissue/highfructose.html):

For example, consumption of glucose kicks off a cascade of biochemical reactions. It increases production of insulin by the pancreas, which enables sugar in the blood to be transported into cells, where it can be used for energy. It increases production of leptin, a hormone that helps regulate appetite and fat storage, and it suppresses production of another hormone made by the stomach, ghrelin, that helps regulate food intake. It has been theorized that when ghrelin levels drop, as they do after eating carbohydrates composed of glucose, hunger declines.

Fructose is a different story. It "appears to behave more like fat with respect to the hormones involved in body weight regulation," explains Peter Havel, associate professor of nutrition at the University of California, Davis. "Fructose doesn't stimulate insulin secretion. It doesn't increase leptin production or suppress production of ghrelin. That suggests that consuming a lot of fructose, like consuming too much fat, could contribute to weight gain." Whether it actually does do this is not known "because the studies have not been conducted," said Havel.

Another concern is the action of fructose in the liver, where it is converted into the chemical backbone of trigylcerides more efficiently than glucose. Like low-density lipoprotein -- the most damaging form of cholesterol -- elevated levels of trigylcerides are linked to an increased risk of heart disease. A University of Minnesota study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2000 found that in men, but not in women, fructose "produced significantly higher [blood] levels" than did glucose. The researchers, led by J.P Bantle, concluded that "diets high in added fructose may be undesirable, particularly for men."

This quote found in Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fructose) puts it more succinctly:

"When fructose reaches the liver," says Dr. William J. Whelan, a biochemist at the University of Miami School of Medicine, "the liver goes bananas and stops everything else to metabolize the fructose."

Not everyone agrees that fructose causes any metabolic problems, but I've read enough to think that while we won't be hurting ourselves by limiting the amount of pure fructose, we may be harming our bodies by consuming too much of it. The science behind fructose metabolism is complex (and those two little blurbs above don't even hint at the complexity), but there seems to be enough scientific evidence pointing at fructose as a bad player for us to cut it out. There's plenty of information out there from the opposing camp on why fructose and HFCS are no worse than sucrose out there too, but I'm not going to spend time on that. If anyone out there is interested and wants to see what that camp has to say, e-mail me and I'll dig up some sites with that information for you.

I've been really surprised by how many foods have pure fructose listed as an ingredient. Lots of "health foods" use fructose instead of HFCS. I guess because it's super sweet (1.2-1.8 times sweeter than sucrose) and sounds healthy. It actually has some really useful properties that make it very attractive for food production - such as flavor enhancement, shelf stability, surface browning, and others. I was surprised to learn that pure, crystalline fructose is a relatively new thing. It's only been around for about 20 years. It's often a recommended sugar for diabetics because it doesn't give the same insulin response as other sugars. But while a little is not a bad thing (and might even be a good thing), we're so bombarded with fructose that I'd rather do away with it all together in our home foods - at least in a pure form.

We will still get fructose from fruit and honey, but that fructose will come along with all of the benefits of fruit and honey. We'll also get fructose in plain ole table sugar. Table sugar - aka sucrose - is a disaccharide of glucose and fructose. At the very least, the body has to break up that disaccharide enzymatically to free the fructose - a step that is missing with pure fructose and HFCS.

But that brings me to the next reason why we're doing this. I want us to eat healthier. Period. That means less sugar, less bad fat, more good fat - better food in general. And that is HARD, especially when you have a 4 year old who will choose a cracker or chip over a piece of fruit every time - and don't even bring up having a vegetable as a snack! We do pretty good at dinner time. They eat what we eat or nothing at all. But snacks are just hard. And it becomes even harder when places like summer camp (that touts serving healthy food) serves things like electric blue and hot pink yogurt (yes, loaded with HFCS) or chocolate pudding as a snack. (To be fair, they do also have fruit or veggie snacks. And, to be fair, my dear, beloved 4 yr old son refuses to eat the fruit or veggie snack every darn time.) And it's even harder when it's so easy to toss a processed snack in a bag as you step out the door. Or to give a processed snack instead of a piece of fruit because you know they won't whine about a pack of crackers. Giving up HFCS and pure fructose brings us a step closer to my goal of healthier eating simply because it eliminates so much (but not all!) of the junk food out there.

I'm reading a couple of books right now that are driving home the importance of eating well - especially for children. And then you hear statistics about how life expectancies are starting to go down for the first time. Why is that? I'm sure that there are a whole host of reasons, but I would bet that the quality (and quantity) of food that we're eating is a big factor. This is really important stuff, and it feels like it's us against the world! And it doesn't help that the foods that aren't as good for you taste SO good - especially to a child. When I was growing up, I was as likely to eat a piece of fruit or a carrot stick for a snack as I was a cracker or cookie. I had both available to me, but there was a balance. I want my kids to find that balance. I want my kids to recognize the deliciousness of a good apple and the lusciousness of a peach. I want them to know the crunchy sweetness of a carrot and not look at raw vegetables with disdain.

We've got a ways to go, and giving up HFCS is just a start. Somehow, I want to teach my kids how to balance good foods and bad foods (because the bad foods will always be out there), but first I have to find ways to get them to like the good foods. Heck, I have to find ways to get my picky eaters to even TRY the good foods! We won't be completely giving up the bad foods (though HFCS has been purged from this house!), but I do want the balance to switch in favor of good foods around here. This is going to be a slow process, but I hope and pray that we can make it a lifelong change.


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