If it’s impossible to slim down despite your best efforts, your problem may be fructose. This simple sugar occurs naturally in fruits, sweet vegetables, and honey, but is also added as high fructose corn syrup to most baked goods, drinks, sauces, and prepackaged foods.
Recent studies have found that fructose very quickly turns into body fat, in some cases never even yielding energy for the body to use, says Richard Johnson, author of The Sugar Fix (Rodale, 2008). Fructose also puts a damper on a hormone called leptin, which signals our brain that we’re satiated and it’s time to stop eating. To end your own sugar fix and lose weight, follow this plan from Johnson:
1 Cut down on fructose. Start by avoiding high fructose corn syrup and table sugar. Look for these in any processed food, including ketchup and other condiments, sauces, salad dressings, jams, peanut butter, meat products, and commercially produced desserts. Eat no more than 35 grams of fructose per day.
2 Say no to sugary drinks. Sodas are obviously out—12 ounces of cola has more than 20 grams of fructose— but pay attention to juices. One eight-ounce serving of orange juice has 10.7 g of fructose, cranberry juice can have up to 13 g, and apple juice 16. Avoid smoothies, sweetened coffee beverages, wine coolers, and any bottled drink that lists high fructose corn syrup on the label. Stick to water, and unsweetened coffee and tea, instead.
3 Eat some starch. Starchy foods (whole wheat pasta, potatoes, and even whole-grain bread) may stay on the menu. They are rich in glucose, which stimulates insulin release, “a normal and healthy physiologic reaction,” says Johnson.
4 Take care of yourself. Boost your metabolism with 30 minutes of exercise per day, Johnson says. Get 10 to 15 minutes of sun twice a week for vitamin D (your body makes it from sunshine), and 250 mg of vitamin C daily for the antioxidants. Eat small amounts of dark chocolate on occasion— it helps lower blood pressure.
5 Take the no-fructose challenge. Eating fructose triggers the body to produce more of the enzymes that metabolize it, which leads to more cravings. You can break this cycle by going cold turkey for two weeks. Skip sweetened food and drinks, including desserts, fruit and fruit juice, even honey. Read labels and don’t eat anything with high fructose corn syrup. (You can still eat potatoes, pasta, rice, vegetables, meat, fish, legumes, nuts, and cheese.) After two weeks, eat fructose in moderation.
Is sugar . . . MAKING YOU FAT (AND SICK)?
Fructose is added to everything, says Johnson, and while it may have helped our ancestors prepare for winter or famine, that need no longer exists. Having too much fructose in your diet can set you up for a cluster of health concerns that increase your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Look for these symptoms and get tested for the following:
►Excess weight, especially near your waist
►Low HDL or “good cholesterol”
►High blood pressure
►High blood glucose levels and/or insulin resistance
►High levels of triglycerides (energy stored in fat cells) in your blood
Johnson recommends eating less than 35 g of fructose a day, but keeping track of it can be tricky. Here’s a handy list of fructose-rich foods, excerpted from Johnson’s book, The Sugar Fix:
TABLE SUGAR, 1 tablespoon 2.0
PINEAPPLE, 1 slice 4.0
MOLASSES, 1 tablespoon 5.5
GRANOLA, 1/2 cup 7.0
BANANA, 1 medium 7.1
RAISIN BRAN, 1 cup 7.6
APPLE, medium 9.5
WATERMELON, 1/4 melon 11.3
GRAPES, seedless, 1 cup 12.4
APPLE PIE, 1 slice 16.5
CARROT CAKE, 1 slice 27.0
CHOCOLATE CAKE, 1 slice 37.0