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Sucrose, Fructose, High Fructose Corn Syrup – What’s the Difference?

It’s a sweet world out there with a lot of options when it comes to visiting the grocery store and supermarket to stock up the pantry. Grab a packaged item off from the shelves, and the chances are good the ingredients listing shows some form of added sugar: Sucrose, fructose, or high fructose corn syrup. What complicates matters and adds confusion for consumers is how these sugar types sound similar when they have ‘ose’ at the end, but in fact, there are notable differences.

The first is the molecular structure that gives each compound its shape and form. Sucrose, a naturally-occurring sugar, is composed of glucose and fructose linked together and produced from sugar canes (pictured above) and sugar beets (PubChem, 2020). Glucose and fructose are both metabolized – or broken down – in the liver but through different pathways leading to the same byproducts: Carbon dioxide and fatty acids (Remember this ☝🏽); Furthermore, glucose causes more of a blood sugar spike and insulin release compared to fructose (Rippe and Angelopoulos, 2013). High fructose corn syrup (or HFCS as an acronym), on the other hand, is synthetic and derived from corn where the cost of production is less expensive compared to other sweeteners (Duffey and Popkin, 2008). HFCS is mostly fructose, depending on how sweet the manufacturer wants to make it for consumers according to a neuroscience article (2019).

In the grander scheme of things, sweeteners are mostly the same, with the exception that food manufacturers have control over the sweetness of their products by using HFCS as an ingredient. Sugar will be broken down and turned into carbon dioxide and fatty acids, to reiterate. Now, think back to the previous post on the metabolism of drugs and vitamins through the process of absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion (Remember ‘ADME?’).

There is a limit in how a person can absorb sugar and metabolize everything in time before the body is stressed. Problems arise when sugar accumulates in the bloodstream, and fatty acids build up in the liver. Excess sugar flowing systemically or lodged within organ systems can contribute to inflammation and cause damage to the joints, skin, liver, heart, pancreas, and kidneys (WebMD, 2017). Your body doesn’t need that much sugar in the first place until you might get hooked on to the sweet stuff.

Sugar cravings are real folks that it is similar to having a drug addiction. The pleasure from the experience of tasting sweetness can lead to wanting more. Repeating this cycle of behavior becomes more of a problem when your body starts to depend on sugary foods to function normally. Indeed, being stressed, anxious, and depressed are emotional states that can lead to sugar consumption according to a neuroscience article (2019).

Now we are left with two questions: (1) How do we kick the sugar cravings, and (2) How much sugar can you have in a day?

First, consider if there are any triggering events that are making you crave for sugar. Is having a burger, fries, and a soft drink your default choice for lunch? Know that there are healthy alternatives. Substitute the soft drink with fruit juice (it still contains added sugar 😱 but it’s a start). Then make the transition to sparkling water to simulate the fizz and bubbly taste of having a soda, but this time, it’s unsweetened. Make baby steps towards lowering your dependency on consuming soft drinks. Also, are there stressors in your life that are driving you to consume sugary food and beverages? Coping measures will be needed, and a support group from friends and family can help. If there is stress going on in your life right now, find a way to improve your situation and commit to a change, no matter how small.

Now second, how much sugar in grams should you have or allowed to have in a day? The American Heart Association recommends no more than 36 grams for men and no more than 25 grams for women in a day. To put it into perspective, a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola contains 39 grams of sugar and having one every day is already too much since soft-drink consumption has been linked to the obesity epidemic. Because of the variations of health profiles from person to person, there is no exact amount of sugar in grams an individual can have in a day.

It’s better to simplify your life by not having to count or measure sugar grams every day. The first call to action is to substitute synthetically made food products for natural fruits made by Mother Nature such as apples, oranges, bananas, grapes, and watermelons (nothing better than a slice of watermelon in the summer evenings). Pack a fruit to snack on during the daytime when you’re at work. Try an apple or banana with some peanut butter to get the full sensation after snacking. If you depend on soft drinks for energy to function throughout the day, reduce consumption by one can (if you have multiple cans) every 2-3 weeks, depending on how much change you could handle. Substitute soft drinks with a cup of coffee or iced tea. Over time, your body will adapt to relying on fruits to satisfy your taste buds and your sweet tooth. Give these recommendations a try and let us know how it works! We will be glad to hear from you!

References

American Heart Association. (n.d.). How much sugar is too much? Retrieved from https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/how-much-sugar-is-too-much

Duffey, K. J., & Popkin, B. M. (2008). High-fructose corn syrup: is this what’s for dinner?. The American journal of clinical nutrition88(6), 1722S–1732S. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/88/6/1722S/4617108

Hughes, L. (2017). How does too much sugar affect your body? Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/features/how-sugar-affects-your-body

Jacques A, Chaaya N, Beecher K, Ali SA, Belmer A, Bartlett S. The impact of sugar consumption on stress driven, emotional and addictive behaviors. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2019;103:178-199. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0149763418308613?via%3Dihub

National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Database. Sucrose, CID=5988, https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Sucrose (accessed on July 25, 2020)

Rippe, J. M., & Angelopoulos, T. J. (2013). Sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, and fructose, their metabolism and potential health effects: what do we really know?. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.)4(2), 236–245. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3649104/

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