Type, Not Just Amount of Sugar, Affects Health

Posted 03/14/2017 | By HealthCorps

You would have to be living in a tent on Mars at this point in time to not be aware of the dangers of added sugars.  Experts say that most of us – adults and kids – are eating a diet that contains too much added sugar.  Most processed foods are notoriously high in added sugars, but it can also lurk in the less obvious foods like ketchup and tomato sauces.  A new study suggests that the “type” of sugar you eat, and not just the calorie count, may decide your risk of developing certain chronic diseases.

If you are a capable label reader, then you will likely refer to the nutrition breakdown on the package to see how many grams of sugar are in the portion of food you are about to ear.  One gram of sugar has 4 calories.  You can easily determine the percentage of sugar calories by using the total number of calories in a portion and then seeing what percentage are sugar calories. This new study suggests that different types of sugar have a different impact on metabolic and vascular function.

The study published in the American Journal of Physiology-Heart and Circulatory Physiology, involved rat subjects who were fed two different types of sugar.  One group of female rats received glucose, the sugar that is a natural byproduct when carbohydrates break down, and the other group of female rats was given fructose, the sugar found in fruit and fruit juices.  Both groups were also fed their regular solid food diets.  The sweetened solutions were given to the rats for eight weeks to mimic the amount of sugar that a person might consume in a six year period.  There was also a control group of rats fed their regular diet and water.

The study findings were somewhat provocative.  The rats given the glucose drinks actually consumed more calories during the study.  But it was the group that consumed the fructose drink that showed a more significant increase in body weight (though technically they consumed fewer calories than the glucose group).  The fructose group also had more markers of vascular disease, increased liver weight, decreased fat burning in the liver (risk factor for fatty liver disease) and “impaired relaxation of the aorta,” which is a risk factor for higher blood pressure.

The take away message seems to be that though overall sugar consumption is associated with weight gain and the risk of developing certain health issues, different sugars cause different health problems, some more worrisome than others.  It’s also important to remember that when you eat a fruit, vegetable, or whole grains, the presence of fiber helps to modulate the natural sugars found in these foods, slowing down the rate of absorption during digestion.

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