At some point, I’m sure we’ve all conquered our monster cravings and replaced a decadent dessert with a piece of fruit because we knew it was better for us. But have you ever sat down and actually thought about why it’s supposedly better?
Believe it or Not
Fruit sugar and processed sugar are made up of the exact same two components: Glucose and fructose.
Fruit (along with honey, stevia and maple syrup) contain individual units of glucose and fructose, so the ratio of these can vary from fruit to fruit. However, processed sugar has the glucose and fructose molecule hooked together, which we call sucrose. Sucrose has an even 50/50 split of glucose and fructose.
So why does everyone say the sugar in fruit is better? One of the main reasons is because processed sugar metabolizes differently in our bodies than fruit sugar.
Glucose in the Body
Glucose is commonly referred to as blood sugar and is a molecule that’s absolutely vital to life because it provides energy for all the cells in our body. When you eat carbohydrates (breads, rice, fruits, sugar) your body turns them into glucose and sends it into the bloodstream to transfer to cells that need energy. When glucose is released into our bloodstream, our blood sugar levels increase and our bodies regulate by releasing insulin, which helps improve the transfer of glucose from our blood into our cells for energy. Once all the cells that need energy are filled with glucose, the remainder in our blood is stored in the liver and muscles as fat for later use.
Fructose in the Body
Fructose is commonly referred to as fruit sugar and unlike glucose, can only be metabolized by the liver, meaning it doesn’t provoke an insulin response. If you eat a lot of fructose, the liver gets overloaded and turns the fructose into fat.
So basically, if you eat more than you burn, both excess glucose and fructose are going to get stored as fat, but with fruit that has less of a chance of this happening…
A key component to comparing sugars is the context in which the sugar is being consumed.
When you eat a piece of fruit, you’re getting a lot more than just sugar: you ingest all of the other nutrients present in the fruit like vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and water. When you eat something with added sugar, like candy, soda or other processed foods, they contain very little additional nutrients, if at all.
Fiber is Key
The fiber in fruits is especially significant because when you eat fiber along with other nutrients, it slows the body’s absorption process. This means that your body has more time to use up the glucose and fructose as fuel, before being stored as fat. Fiber also helps the body feel full, so you won’t keep reaching for more sugar.
Less Sugar Dense
Another thing to note is that consuming too much sugar from fruit is really hard to do as it has less sugar by volume than processed foods so you’d have to eat large amounts to reach harmful levels of fructose.
So next time you’re tempted to reach for that slice of cake or pint of ice cream, think about the havoc that sugar is going to wreak in your body and see if maybe you decide to eat a piece of fruit instead.