Monday, 14 October 2013

Healthy options?

In a world that bombards me with information on how to be healthier (much of it true, I might add), I am very happy with the decision I have made that drastically reducing fructose in my diet is the best place for me to start. It's an idea that's sort of new and radical, but it's gaining more and more momentum and credibility. And it's sort of not new and radical at all - our fructose intake has exploded over the last century or more, and maybe some of us are just trying to get back to "normal." There are many people, professionals and amateurs, who believe there is not enough evidence to suggest sugar is harming us, and there are many people, professionals and amateurs, who believe there is. Unusually for me, I'm happy to decide where I stand, for now, rather than be a fence-sitter, while the debate continues. Present me with some convincing evidence and I'll happily climb over to the other side of the fence. In fact, given that the norm in fructose intake, up until the late 19th century, was a few pieces of fruit and some occasional honey (approximately one kilo per year), I think I'd want someone to present me with evidence that increasing this amount by 22 times is safe.

I think I've gone off the topic. Below I've listed a few items that I don't consider to be good alternatives to table sugar. You may have come across them at all sorts of healthy destinations (food blogs, health stores etc) and noticed that they've been missing from my pages. That's because my angle, my thing, my passion is reducing fructose in our diets. While many of these products have some health benefits, they are all high in fructose. Here's a quick run though of what I've been learning about them.

Agave Syrup is made up of anywhere from 50 - 90% (approx) of fructose (depending on the brand). This is in comparison to sugar which is 50% fructose, and high fructose corn syrup which is usually 55% fructose.

These articles by Dr Joseph Mercola, and Kathleen M. Zelman don't find much to praise about agave. It's suggested that much of agave's popularity is due to to clever marketing. It seems that what starts out as a good product in plant form, ends up, due to processing, as something that offers us very little but high (bad) sugar and high calories. Not all agave is created equal, but even those that are aiming to create a quality product still leave us with the sugar and the calories.

Unrefined sugars are regularly recommended as a preferable option over table sugar. And indeed they are.
There is wide a range of sugars available, and they all sit somewhere on the scale of unrefined to refined. Rapadura sits at the unrefined end, turbinado and others sit in the middle, and ordinary table sugar is the most refined. The more refined the sugar, the less vitamins and minerals there are left (there's none in table sugar), and the more chemicals have been added. But - all sugar contains fructose. I'm choosing to avoid fructose altogether* and the question of whether or not it comes packaged with vitamins or minerals is not so relevant for me. Let's hope I am eating plenty of other foods that are packed with vitamins and minerals. 

Coconut sugar. There's quite a debate raging over coconut sugar, and whether it is a healthy sugar alternative. But I think I'm clear on two facts. It has loads of great nutrients in it and, you guessed it, it's high in fructose. Wikipedia explains coconut sugar like this (and many other sites do pretty much the same): "The major component of coconut sugar is sucrose (70-79%) followed by glucose and fructose (3-9%) each." This is a pretty tricksy way of putting it, though I think it is quite legitimate (to do with the way the molecules are bound together or something along those lines). Only 3 - 9% fructose, that doesn't sound too bad does it? But hang on a minute, sucrose is 50% glucose and 50% fructose! That means coconut sugar is approximately 48 - 55% fructose in total. Coconut sugar is much like unrefined sugars in that it contains vitamins and minerals, and has plenty of fructose.

Dates are a very popular sweetening agent for those who are keen to avoid sugar. They certainly contain plenty of things that are good for you that you won't find in sugar, though again, we're not just interested about what good is in something, but also what bad. Dates are extravagantly high in fructose, which is presumably why they are an effective sugar substitute. I've found the research difficult on this one. I've read previously that dried fruit has very little fibre in it but it seems that dates are quite high in fibre. Fibre is a great companion to fructose as it reduces its negative effects. So like fruit, they may be a good option if eaten in moderation. In moderation! I wouldn't add them to all my baking. But I think fibre just might be their salvation, and perhaps after all this reading I could add them to my shopping list. Thanks research!

* I continue to eat fructose in fruit, and occasionally choose a sugary treat when I'm out. I use sugar alternatives at home and love it when others do the same - especially when they share their results with me!

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