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Decoding Sugar and Weight Control

orange-juiceAll sugar is not the same. There are two kinds of sugar, glucose and fructose. Glucose is a primary fuel for the body. There are major differences in the way your body processes fructose and glucose. When you consume fructose even in whole fruits, you body packs on pounds at a much higher rate than if you just consumed glucose. When you eat fructose, your liver bears the major burden of breaking down the fructose. With glucose, the liver breaks down only 20%. Every cell in your body uses and can access glucose quickly after consumption. On the other hand, fructose is converted into free fatty acids, VLDL (the damaging form of cholesterol) and triglycerides, which is stored as fat.

The metabolism of fructose affects hormones differently too. Fructose has no effect of the hunger hormone ghrelin and it interferes with your brain’s communication with leptin. Leptin is the hormone that allows you to feel full. Glucose on the other hand, suppresses the hunger hormone ghrelin and stimulates leptin decreasing your appetite. With fructose consumption, you will continue to be hungry and not fill up.

Fructose in particular is a potent pro inflammatory agent that creates AGEs and speeds up aging in your body. AGEs known as advanced glycation end products are a complex group of compounds formed when sugar reacts with amino acids. These can occur in food you eat and inside your body. New studies are indicating AGEs may be involved in the development of chronic degenerative diseases associated with aging including cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes. In animal studies, restricting AGEs has reduced oxidative stress and inflammatory markers as well as an increased lifespan. So there is evidence that fructose plays a role in chronic inflammation and aging.

Many people believe that juicing is the key to better health and weight loss. When you separate the fiber from the juice of fruits you are throwing away the good (the fiber) and drinking the bad (fructose and glucose sugars). It takes 4 to 5 oranges to make one glass of orange juice. If you ate 4 oranges you would feel very full from the fiber and the fiber from the orange would be slow down the release of sugars into your blood. But drinking a glass of orange juice full of sugar molecules doesn’t fill you up, and instead fires off inflammatory events in your body and directs your liver to convert the fructose to fat. Contrary to popular beliefs, it’s very hard to lose weight with fruit juicing.

So what foods do you eliminate or reduce if you want to cut back on fructose and control your weight. Meats, vegetables and unsweetened dairy products don’t contain fructose. Fructose is in small amounts of whole fruits and has less of a physiological effect when eaten in whole fresh fruits because of the fiber content. Fructose is also found naturally in fruit juices, figs, dates, raisins, dried peaches, dried apricots, honey, and molasses. When reading labels, beware of concentrated fruit juice as a sweetener. Concentrated fruit juices are code for fructose containing. Watch out for sweetened yogurts which often contain concentrated fruit juices.

Then there is the special case of high fructose corn syrup. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is used to sweeten beverages including sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, fruit juices, sweetened teas and flavored milks. HFCS formulas among manufacturers vary from 90% to 45% fructose with the balance as glucose. In general you want to avoid all foods made with HFCS. Processed foods typically use HFCS as the sweetener because it’s cheap to make. Foods that contain HFCS typically include cereals, candy, breads, cookies, cakes, ketchup, BBQ sauce, soda, and sweetened drinks

A good place to start is to stop drinking sweetened beverages. Most of my clients who have lost weight have had success switching to water, unsweetened tea or coffee. If you need something sweet in coffee or tea, the consensus among nutritionists is that stevia is your best choice. Stevia is low calorie and is plant based. Agave syrup once touted a health product, is almost 100% fructose and should be avoided. You may also want to consider avoiding processed foods that contain HFCS, or concentrated fruit juice as a sweetener.

Often with my coaching clients, we embark on setting new health goals and identifying a strategic personalized health plan for each client. With the new biochemical information about fructose, I am moving clients away from foods high in fructose especially if overweight, at risk for diabetes and or menopausal.

One suggestion as a way to see your personal progress is to make your own photo documentary of yourself off of sugars especially fructose. Take a self photo every month in the same pose, same background, and same clothes for 6 months. See the difference yourself. If you want to share, please send me your before and after photos.


  1. Hi Jan-Great article! I frequently need reminding about sugar, especially differentiating between the fructose and glucose foods. I appreciate the advice. Question: I have been using agave nectar in my home made granola b/c I thought it was a low glycemic index sugar, so therefore better than the brown sugar or maply syrup. It usually cuts the sugar in half. I also use dried cranberries or cherries or raisins as well. What is your opinion on this? Nancy

    • Hi Nancy, Agave nectar has a low glycemic index for one reason only- it’s 90% fructose. In the processing of agave it’s natural source of fructose is inulin which is a good type of fiber, but the processors add enzymes to break the fiber down to fructose making it a highly processed fructose. Most low glycemic foods are low glycemic index because of fiber content, but agave nectar is an exception. You might want to change over to honey. I wouldn’t worry too much about the dried fruit given it’s mixed with a high fiber granola and most likely your are eating it in the morning before exercise. If you were trying to shed pounds, then you might reconsider the dried fruit too.

      • Thanks for the update. I will just use honey and also it calls for maple syrup. That gives it a nice taste
        as well.Seems there is always something that you think is good for you, then realize its not!!! Mostly I have found the key to success of feeling good and staying lean is to stay away from the sugar and alcohol. These two are a deadly combo!!! I also feel like I am entering that phase in my life where my
        portions are smaller, I am not as hungry as I used to be. Which I guess is a good thing. Thanks again.

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