Lately we've been getting a large number of letters asking about using "fructose" for their sweetener of choice (believing them to be more healthy than "artificial" sweeteners), and asking about using products containing high fructose corn syrup that sound healthy to them. Here is an example of one of many letters we've gotten recently:
Hello! My name is Rita.
Thank you so much for your service to the low-carb community. I am wondering about the use of fructose. It is reported to have a very low glycemic response because it is digested very slowly.
Isn't this a better choice for sweetening, or at least another option, over maltodextrin/sucralose? The same report that indicated that fructose has a low glycemic index showed that maltodextrin is high. I am experimenting w/ 1/4 cup fructose plus my own liquid stevia extract to replace 1 cup of sugar in different recipes. It has worked well for cheesecake and pancake syrup w/the addition of "not/sugar".
Also, have you tried the fruit based sweeteners like "ki-sweet" and "slim-sweet"? In case you haven't guessed, I would like to try to stay away from anything artificial in the sweetening area.
First, my response to Rita:
Please take the time to read the article and news story referenced below to see why we don't recommend fructose as a sweetener. A few insights:
Fructose has been touted for years as a safe sugar for diabetics because it doesn't trigger a rapid rise in blood sugar. That's true, but the cardiovascular consequences may outweigh the benefits for diabetics, who already face a higher than average risk of developing heart disease.
A wealth of animal studies support the idea. Feed a lab rat fructose at levels comparable to those in human diets, and it develops insulin resistance, even if it stays lean.
Last year, researchers at the University of Toronto in Canada fed a high fructose diet to Syrian golden hamsters, which have a fat metabolism remarkably similar to humans.
In weeks, the hamsters developed Syndrome X-including high triglyceride levels and insulin resistance.
As for your question about sweeteners that use lo-han fruit... I agree, they do have a place in a low carbers' diet. While I don't think they should make up the bulk of ones daily sweetener, they are so concentrated that a tiny smidge offers loads of sweetness. So even though they are pure carb, they are far lower on the glycemic scale than sugar, honey, etc, yet don't offer the negative effects of fructose.
Being a little alarmed that so many who have adopted a low carb lifestyle are seeing fructose and HFCS as the way to go, prompts me to reprint a column I wrote last year. And this very month, an article appeared in the LA Times that a friend of the site sent me (thanks, Kelly) that illustrates how widespread the made-from-corn fructose problem is about to become.
Please take a moment to read that article here.
Then read the reprint of my August 24, 2001 article below:
"A Look at High Fructose Corn Syrup"
As I walk down the aisles of my health food stores, I naturally look to the products that seem least likely to contain any form of sugar. Obviously. I'm a low-carber. But to those that don't avoid the carbs and look simply to "something more natural" (a phrase I hear bandied about in my local venues quite a bit), the substitution of what they see as "better than sugar" is actually shocking.
Don't believe it? Look for yourself. Go to any health food store or that "section" of your grocery, and start reading labels. You'll see a huge number of products that have substituted "raw" sugar (just as unhealthy) and even worse, high fructose corn syrup.
And that, is the reason for this column. I have mentioned in the past my strict avoidance of HFCS (high fructose corn syrup), but I am told I have not really expounded on the reasons why. So here we go. . .
If you consider fructose a safe, natural sugar, think again. You've been had by one of the biggest nutritional bait-and-switch ploys in years.
First, you should know, that while most people associate the word "fructose" with "fruit sugar", more than 95% of fructose in America comes from cheaply processed corn and not fruit at all. HFCS is sort of like "fructose-plus". More concentrated, more dangerous. And a MUCH higher profit margin for food makers.
You see, there's been a quiet revolution going on in America since 1970: The gradual replacement of cane & beet sugar by corn syrups. And little wonder. Corn syrup, particularly high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), is cheap to produce, sweet to the tongue, and easy to store safely. According to the USDA, the average American consumed 1/2 pound of high fructose corn syrup in 1970. By the mid-1990s, that figure has jumped to 55.3 pounds of HFCS per person.
And just because you stay away from soda and sweets doesn't count you out as a corn syrup consumer: HFCS finds its way into everything from sauces to bacon to beer. And, despite the FDA's assurances to the contrary, a growing number of researchers are beginning to think HFCS is a constant dietary companion we'd be better off without.
The truth is that fructose and HFCS, as large-scale commercial sweeteners, didn't exist 20 years ago. Now, they're almost as common as sucrose-plain old white sugar. HFCS is routinely added to processed foods and beverages including Coca-Cola, Snapple, and many health food products.
The trouble may lie with the particular form fructose assumes in corn syrup. While naturally occurring sugars, as well as the sucrose we spoon into our coffee, contain fructose bound to other sugars, high-fructose corn syrup contains a good deal of "free" or unbound fructose. And it may be this free fructose that interferes with the heart's use of key minerals, like magnesium, copper and chromium.
In fact, a trail of medical studies dating back a quarter of a century doesn't paint a terribly sweet picture for fructose. High fructose consumption has been fingered as a causative factor in heart disease. It raises blood levels of cholesterol and another type of fat, triglyceride. It makes blood cells more prone to clotting, and it may also accelerate the aging process.
The problem comes with the sheer quantity of "hidden" fructose being consumed through the HFCS and sucrose in processed foods. For example, conventional and "new age" soft drinks almost universally contain 11 percent HFCS by weight-2.2 pounds per case.
Fructose and other sugars contribute to heart disease in yet another way. Dietary sugars increase what doctors call "spontaneous platelet aggregation", an unnatural tendency toward blood clotting. But according to a study published in the Aug. 1, 1990, Thrombosis Research, fructose promotes abnormal clotting much more than does any other common sugar does.
Isn't it interesting that the FDA has basically allowed fructose and HFCS based products to enter the market without any rigorous testing of it. The passage:
"Fructose is part of the sucrose sugar. Sucrose is affirmed as GRAS (generally regarded as safe)," explained Judy Folke, a spokesperson at the FDA's Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Press Office in Washington, D.C. "Fructose is not GRAS, but it was treated under prior sanction because it had been used for so many years."
I see... so it's in the food supply without being classified as "Generally Regarded as Safe" because no one has challenged it over the years... Wow, I feel better now.
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