Making informed choices about what to feed your family can be tough and, unfortunately, labels are not always designed to make this task easier. On the contrary, they can cause more confusion then they clear up. For instance, a friend who is new to the label-policing that is my life showed me some crackers she had bought for her kids. She was happy that “sugar” was not on the ingredients list, and it wasn’t. Glucose, fructose and corn syrup; yes, but “sugar”, no. Here you will find a brief explanation of these other ingredients; where they come from, why they’re here and most importantly, what they do inside your body.
Glucose is the basic building block of carbohydrates. In complex carbs, the body needs to go through the process of digestion to release the glucose from the grain or vegetable. Straight glucose delivers and immediate sugar-high as no digestion is required before the sweet stuff can be delivered to the cells. Dextrose is a type of glucose often seen in foods. The word glucose is a combination of the Greek word “glykys” meaning sweet, and the suffix “ose” which chemically denotes a sugar. Remembering that anything ending in “ose” is a sugar can be helpful when reading labels too.
Fructose is often called “fruit sugar” because it is the natural sweetener found in fruits and root veggies, such as carrots and beets. It is often used in cakes, cookies, and fast and processed foods because it enhances “mouth feel” of food products. It is also he sweetest of the naturally occurring carbohydrates.
Because it is found in healthy foods, fructose is often recommended as a healthy alternative to many other sugars, and to an extant, this is true. Diabetics are often told that this is better for them as it does not spike insulin levels the same way. Too much of a good thing can still be harmful however and over time fructose can have a negative affect on uric acid levels in the body, which is often a problem for diabetics already. Fructose must be processed in the liver and experiments studying the livers of individuals consuming high amounts of refined fructose show livers that look like they belong to alcoholics. Some people have a hard time absorbing fructose effectively. This can cause fermentation in the digestive system, resulting in cramps, gas or diarrhea.
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is an entirely different thing altogether. All the others are acceptable in moderation. HFCS has no redeeming value nutritionally and is having some pretty scary affects on our bodies. HFCS is in almost everything processed because it can extend shelf life, prevent freezer burn, and give baked goods that tempting golden-brown look. It is also cheaper than real sugar. It is made from genetically modified corn as is made up of both glucose and fructose.
HFCS seems to trick the body, messing with the metabolic-hormones so that it takes longer to reach the satiation point. At the same time the liver can’t metabolize fats properly. As a result, we are eating more, storing more fat and becoming insulin resistant in the process!
Because of the prevalence of these derivatives on the market, some companies are choosing to go back to plain old sugar. It’s kind of funny that sugar is starting to be seen as a health food! The best way of getting your glucose is through whole foods of course, which provide the nutrients needed by the body. Meals should look more like they used to, and less like a chemistry experiment. Foods should be enjoyed as a whole, not broken down into the cheapest and most addictive possible parts.