You think that natural sugar – sugar that comes from fruit – is not as bad as the fake stuff.
But is it?
There is more to sugar than meets the eye…
For many people, the reality is that sugar that comes from fruit is just as bad as the man-made rubbish. Simply consuming fruits can cause discomfort and pain.
A Little About Sugar
Let’s start by talking a little about sugar. There is more to sugar than meets the eye – there are different types of sugar:
- Glucose: found in starchy carbohydrates and fruits
- Fructose: mostly found in fruits and honey
- Galactose: only found in dairy
- Sucrose: table sugar; a mix of glucose and fructose
All of these sugars are digested differently. For example, glucose is sent to the muscles and used immediately as energy or stored for later. In contrast, fructose needs to be processed through the intestines and liver first and is either turned into glucose or fat. It is fructose that some people have a hard time digesting; otherwise known as fructose malabsorption issues.
Most people can handle small amounts of fruit. But in some people, fruit can cause problems beyond the extra calories. For people who suffer from fructose malabsorption, eating too much fruit can lead to pain, diarrhoea, and other digestive problems.
Trouble With Fructose
After eating fructose, some of it is absorbed by cells in the small intestine. However, most people tend to get more fructose than their small intestine can absorb.
Healthy individuals without fructose issues can absorb about 50 grams of fructose. But for some, the cells that are designed to absorb fructose just don’t work properly. The amount of fructose they can tolerate is much lower, about 25 grams or less. In these people, too much fruit, fruit juice, or even a Paleo treat made with honey could push them over the digestive edge.
For individuals with fructose malabsorption, the fructose goes undigested and gets carried to the colon where bacteria get rid of it. However, during this process, the bacteria produce gas which causes the intestines to swell, leading to discomfort and pain.
Signs You Have Fructose Malabsorption
The signs of fructose malabsorption are very similar to signs of other issues such as food allergies, lactose intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome, or coeliac disease. However, if you are typically experiencing these symptoms immediately after eating large amounts of fruit, fructose malabsorption could be your answer. Look for symptoms like:
- Stomach distention
- Stomach pain
- Brain fog
- Nausea or vomiting (usually when large amounts of fructose are consumed)
When fructose malabsorption goes uncared for, long-term symptoms may appear such as:
- Extreme sugar cravings (or in rare cases, extreme aversion to sugar)
- Anaemia, the result of poor absorption of vitamins and minerals
- Weight loss or difficulty gaining weight
- Poor skin, hair, and nails
What to Eat With Fructose Malabsorption
If you have been diagnosed with fructose malabsorption issues, or even suspect it, your best bet is to avoid foods that are highest in fructose. For example, fruit like apples, mangoes, pears, and watermelons are highest in natural fructose. You should also avoid dried fruit, fruit juices, and canned fruits.
Luckily, having problems digesting fructose doesn’t mean completely avoiding fresh fruits or other sweet foods. Here are some foods you can eat.
While you shouldn’t eat a lot of fruit, consuming moderate amounts of fruits containing low percentages of fructose shouldn’t be a problem (unless your tolerance for fructose is extremely low). Reach for fresh fruits such as bananas, blueberries, strawberries, oranges, cantaloupe, and honeydew melon. Be sure to limit the amount you eat, and spread it out throughout the day.
Most vegetables are considered safe for those with fructose absorption, as vegetables tend to have very low amounts of fructose in them. However, steer clear of sugar snap peas, artichokes, and asparagus.
One thing to note, if you are really sensitive to fruits, it is possible you may be asked to remove other short-chain carbohydrates called FODMAPs. Fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols easily ferment and cause symptoms similar to that of fructose malabsorption. Avoid foods like onions, cabbage, garlic, pistachios, dairy, mushrooms, peaches, and nectarines.
You should avoid honey, agave, and high-fructose corn syrup, but this doesn’t mean you can never sweeten your food again. Reach for sweeteners that are lower in fructose like rapadura, stevia, or maple syrup. Keep in mind that even though these are generally considered safer than other sweeteners, there is still a chance they could cause some gastrointestinal issues for some people.
While we may have grown up thinking that fruits are healthy and full of natural sugars that are good for us, that many not necessarily be true. For many people, the fructose found in some fruits can cause extreme discomfort, gas and pain. If you have ever experienced digestive issues after eating too much fruit, you could be suffering from fructose malabsorption.
Have you noticed discomfort after eating fruit? Have you experimented with a low fructose diet? Leave a comment below with your experience!