Sunday, May 4, 2014

Taking control of Fructose: The Bitter Truth

I have a sweet tooth, and I don't want to fight it. When we deny our food desires, we usually fail. But that doesn't mean we have to give in and eat poorly!

I'm taking control of the fructose in my diet. I watched this video, and although it's long and science-y/ doctor-y, I understood enough to get angry about all the fructose in my food. Health alone was enough to put me on this path, rather than the usual reasons that push one to change one's eating habits.

Here's the TL;DR version, in case the video is too long for you to watch:

  • Fructose is as bad for your liver as drinking alcohol. It gives you a beer belly, and a boat load of other health problems.Your liver can only handle a small amount of fructose at a time, and cannot do its other functions efficiently if it's overloaded with fructose. The fructose that can't be processed gets shoved off as fat.
  • Fructose disables you body's natural mechanism for telling you you're full. This is why you keep eating too much, not because you "lack self control". It's nearly impossible for anyone to deny eating what your brain wants.
  • Your body can handle glucose (dextrose) all day long, no problems.
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup is nutritionally equivalent to sugar. They're both bad.
  • "Big Food" knows pretty much all of this about fructose. They just like you to eat it because it's cheap, and if you don't feel full or satisfied, you'll buy and eat more food. They even add salt to drinks in order to mask how disgustingly sweet they are; the side benefit is that you stay thirsty. They're concerned about sales, not health.

How I took control:

Step #1: Eliminate the obvious.

I continued to freely eat tasty things like butter, cream, and cheese. Fat is fine, and helps fill you up.

I stopped drinking sweet drinks, including fruit juice. Unless they're home-made, it's a safe bet they're loaded with either fructose or artificial sweeteners. While the video above doesn't condemn artificial sweeteners, I could find very little information about how they affect the body at a basic level. It's clear, though, that they are alien substances. I decided that eliminating the sweeteners is a safer bet than potentially sabotaging my fructose reduction efforts.

When at a restaurant, I drink water, black coffee, milk, or unsweetened tea. It was hard at first, but that's when I would reflect on how mad I was about "them" pushing the fructose on me, and my defenseless liver.

How I satisfy that sweet tooth:

  • Fruit is great! Not juice, but whole fruit. The natural fiber makes it OK. I skip the grapes and go heavy on the berries. Check out the fruit to fiber ratio; I've adopted blueberries as my ideal, at 1 gram fiber per 2 grams fructose.
  • Sometimes I reach for the Smarties or Sweet Tarts. They are made of Dextrose, zero fructose.

Step #2: Seek and remove the hidden.

I have increased my awareness of where the fructose lurks in other foods, and started limiting those foods too. Unfortunately, food labels just list "sugar", rather than the specific kinds. Maybe if we all complain we can get fructose added separately! My goal is not total fructose elimination, but rather to reduce the amount in favor of dextrose, and to balance what I do eat with fiber. The recommended max is 25 grams of fructose a day, but I don't worry overly about the exact count. The fiber keeps me from eating too much anyway.

Fructose and artificial sweeteners are both more intensely sweet than other sugars. That "high" sweet skews the palette and creates a desire to continue eating over-sweetened foods; reducing it makes "regular" food taste better. Now that I've been eating a lot less fructose, I'm more sensitive to the "high" sugars, and I can tell if it's in my food.

This is what I used to think when I was full: "I want to eat more, but my stomach feels like it's about to burst; I'd eat more if I could". Now that I've cut the fructose down, it takes much less food to give me a very satisfied feeling. If I keep eating, I end up thinking this: "food sounds gross, I don't want to even think about it; I've had enough, if I eat more I'll be sick". I often get very thirsty after eating a bit much. Drinking plenty of water helps, and it's good for the liver and kidneys.

What I've learned:

These have lots of fructose:

Also avoid:
What's sweet, body-friendly, and doesn't have fructose:

Stevia (?):

  • Might be ok, but I don't know; It has the "high sweet", though, so I probably won't try it.

Good ways to add fiber:

  • Chia seeds (these have all the other good stuff you find in berries)
  • Benefiber-type clear, non-thickening fiber additive 

Step #3: Reclaim foods you love.

Find ways to make the foods you love have less fructose. If you can make it through the first few weeks of adjusting away from the "high" sweet, the desire for it leaves too, and recipes with reduced fructose can satisfy that sweet tooth just fine. So far, I've made some good progress, starting with my Simple Syrup Dex+. "Dex+" is my tag that says the recipe uses mostly dextrose, and has enough fiber to balance the fructose. I'm also working on a recipe for chocolate...

I started my anti-fructose lifestyle last September. I haven't changed anything else about what I eat or how much I exercise; I just cut out artificial sweeteners, replaced most fructose with dextrose, and balanced the remaining fructose with fiber. I often eat bacon and eggs for breakfast, and have cashews with an apple or roll for lunch (because it's easy and I'm not very hungry). Now I eat less, I get full, and food is more satisfying. I've lost 17 lbs, and my blood pressure and cholesterol are significantly lower; my bp is about 120/80. I also don't crave those awful foods that industry is knowingly pushing on us. Of course there is no guarantee that everyone will have the same results as me, but no one is going to tell you how bad or risky it is to stop eating fructose!

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