If sour news about added fructose — the sugary menace that messes with your liver, boosts blood pressure and stiffens arteries — has you reading food nutrition labels to uncover where it's hiding, you've got the right idea. But nutrition labels don't make it easy to figure out the amount of sugars added to foods.
Sugars may be labeled as everything from fructose to agave nectar, dextrose or cane crystals. And although health advocates are calling for better labeling, we don't think you should wait to start removing added sugars and sugar syrups like high-fructose corn syrup from your pantry and your plate. They have no health benefit, and data show they are almost always bad for your long-term health.
Why is added sugar bad for you? It alters essential proteins throughout the body, and that keeps them from being fully functional for you.
Case in point: People with diabetes get their hemoglobin A1C measured every three months or so to see how well they're controlling their blood sugar levels. What they're measuring is the sugar (glucose) that's attached to hemoglobin proteins (part of your red blood cells).
If your glucose levels are too high (your reading will be above 7 percent), then the sugar is interfering with hemoglobin protein doing its job of delivering oxygen to your cells. High A1C levels let you know that glucose is damaging your blood vessels, organs, brain — you name it.
But it's not just people with diabetes who have to worry about sugar damage, and it's not just high-fructose corn syrup that causes the problem; it's any sugar in excess. So here's our rundown of gotta-know-'em facts about sugars, and fructose in particular.
Fructose, found in high-fructose corn syrup and table sugar, as well as in brown sugar, honey, maple syrup and trendy “alternative” sweeteners like agave syrup and turbinado sugar, taxes your body because liver cells process fructose and turn excess fructose into fat. That wasn't a problem 50 years ago, when we picked up a smidge of fructose from fruit, vegetables and the occasional slice of pie. Today, we consume four to five times more.
The new fructose fallout:
A fat-choked liver. An overload of fructose is a big reason why more than 30 percent of adults in North America have built up fat in the liver, triggering liver disease and cirrhosis. A fructose overload zaps energy the liver needs to filter your blood and build essential proteins.
Blood-pressure boost. Downing 21/2 cans of fructose-drenched soda a day increases your risk of high blood pressure by up to 77 percent, a major cause of stroke, heart attack, memory loss, wrinkles and impotence. Plus, fructose paves the way for Type 2 diabetes by overloading cells that are inhibiting blood sugar absorption.
Ready to ditch this shocking sugar?
Switch to sugar-free sips. Steering clear of sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages, such as fruit juice drinks, sweet teas and bottled smoothies, could cut 40 percent of added sweeteners from your diet. (If you currently drink sweetened sodas, a diet soda or two a day is a better choice, saving you from up to 66 grams of HFCS.)
Spell dessert F-R-U-I-T! Tasty fresh or frozen (without sweeteners) fruit is packed with a truckload of nutrients. Yes, fruit's sweetness comes in part from fructose, but the quantities are small (a cup of blackberries has 3.5 grams and a small apple about 9 grams) and the fiber helps keep blood sugar lower and steadier.
If you just can't kick sugar cold turkey, spread out a max of 20 grams (a smidge more than three teaspoons) of pure cane sugar over the course of a day. And don't eat anything with more than 4 grams per serving of any added sugar or consume more than 4 grams of added sugar in any hour. And remember: Zero-calorie sweeteners — we like stevia — in moderation are not as disastrous to your proteins, their functions or health as sugar.
Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. For more information, go to www.RealAge.com.