Recently on a Facebook post, posted by a government page no less, I saw a post which stated dried fruits contain excess sugar. It quickly became obvious after reading the comments, that apart from a government page spreading half-truths, many people were under the false assumption that all sugar is the same and all sugar is bad. This is not true. This study acknowledges that different types of sugars are used by our bodies in different ways, absorbed differently and have differing affects on our physiology. Allow me to digress.
There are many types of sugars which our bodies use for different processes, and process them differently. The standard ‘sugar’ or table sugar everyone thinks of when hearing the word is actually sucrose. Sucrose is made of glucose and fructose and can be obtained from plants such as sugarcane. Sucrose is added to lots of foods, especially junk foods. We all know junk food is not part of a healthy diet, and should be avoided, especially those high in refined sugar as opposed to natural sugars.
Fructose, the main focus of this article, is the natural form of sugar found in fruits. It forms 50% of the sucrose compound. It should not be confused with High-Fructose corn syrup or HFCS. Many people try to claim that fructose (effectively, fresh fruit) is just as bad for your health as sucrose, or table sugar. This is simply not true. It is true that fructose (like any sugar) is harmful in large amounts, however, the likelihood of overdosing on fructose from fruit alone is slim to none. Furthermore, fructose was found to have no/low effects on insulin or blood glucose levels (BGL), which several studies (also: study 2, study 3) have examined and have come to the same/similar conclusion. However, this is debated in more modern approaches, although typically by non-peer reviewed articles. In any case, fructose as it relates to diabetics is not the main point of this article (& readers are free to research this more for their own personal situation), so I will get back on track.
Fructose is also rapidly absorbed and used, and this study found no correlation between fructose absorption and glucose intolerance. It also concludes that the way fructose and glucose are metabolized differ too. So far, there is no evidence that ‘sugar is sugar’ or ‘all sugar is the same’. In fact, quite the opposite!
Additionally, the government campaign created to encourage more of us to replace junk food with real foods, ‘Go for 2 and 5’ , as the name suggests, states adults should be eating 2 serves of fruit and 5 serves of vegetables each and every day. If fructose were that bad for us, it’d be extremely unlikely that a government campaign, backed by expert advice and research, would suggest such a thing. Furthermore, when asked about healthy eating habits, most people will correctly state that they realize they need to be eating more fresh fruits and vegetables rather than biscuits and fast foods. Even though most people don’t realize many fresh vegetables also contain sodium (salt), such as beetroot, broccoli, and even lettuce, it is widely known that vegetables are good for you, but salt (like sugar) is not.
Another form of sugar is glucose. The diabetics out there will be familiar with glucose as it relates to their blood levels and insulin. Glucose is the sugar our bodies use for energy, as it forms ATP, or Adenosine Triphosphate.
Glucose and fructose have each the same number of molecules, and the same molecules, but the structure of them is what makes such a difference.
Yet another form of natural sugar in common diets is lactose. This is found in dairy products. It is also the cause of an intolerance for certain dairy-based foods by some people, due to their reduced amounts of the lactose enzyme ‘lactase’. Lactose is obviously very different to sugars found in fruits and sugar cane.
The problem with dried fruits e.g. dates, is the natural fructose is more concentrated due to the drying process, the ‘bite size’ is smaller and you can often eat several of them compared to the fresh fruit.
However, no matter how you have it, any serve of fruit is a better choice of snack than a chocolate bar, packet of chips or a pizza.
When it comes to metabolizing sugars, they are also done differently in our bodies. Glucose is turned into energy compounds, and that which is not used (the large majority) are stored as fat. Fructose on the other hand, is only dealt with by your liver alone. It takes a different metabolic pathway and has different byproducts. This article does a decent job of explaining all this, however, one thing the article fails to recognise on the subject of fructose, is that fructose sourced from fresh fruit also includes plenty of fiber. The fiber aids in digestion of the fruits and is beneficial to the human body in ways which sucrose, glucose and pure fructose/fructose syrups are not. Fructose syrups purchased for cooking/sweeteners are not the same as fructose attained from fruits. The former is far more concentrated and processed, unlike the latter i.e. fresh fruits which contain other beneficial components such as fiber and vitamins.
“The WHO guideline does not refer to the sugars in fresh fruits and vegetables, and sugars naturally present in milk, because there is no reported evidence of adverse effects of consuming these sugars”.
This is again evidence that there are, in fact, different sugars which affect our bodies differently. So, the people who repeatedly insisted ‘sugar is sugar’ are in fact, wrong.
At the end of the day, everything is bad for you in one way or another, even water (in excessive amounts). The key to a healthy diet is moderation and balance, couples with exercise. I am no health expert, and never claimed to be. However, anyone claiming that eating a mars bar and an apple is equally nutritional, clearly needs to read a few books!
I am a university science student in Australia and I speak from the perspective of science backed by evidence, as riddled through this article. See your GP for any personal concerns.