I will admit it, I have an insatiable sweet tooth. When I go to the grocery store, the first half of my cart is always amazing; I honestly get a little sense of pride when I look at it. It’s all fresh veggies, refills on oatmeal, lentils, and beans. But then you get to the second half of my cart. Which features vegan chocolate bars that I can’t remember if I’ve tried or not, a creamy lemon tartlet, a pint of the newest almond milk ice cream that was just stocked, a sugary kombucha, or a bag of mini blueberry muffins. Sometimes only one of these items sneaks its way onto the conveyer belt, but sometimes three or four do. Now, that’s not to say that a sweet treat every once in a while is not okay. Everything in moderation, right? However, my challenge has been to understand what moderation means for my body since that will vary from my friend, sister, or that Instagram model.
We all know that excess sugar, especially processed sugar, can cause weight fluctuations, risk of diabetes, and heart disease. However, a new research paper released by the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus found another correlation between the overconsumption of sugar and chronic illnesses. Dr. Richard Johnson and his colleagues found that the overload of fructose in the brain can lease to Alzheimer’s disease. Fructose is one of the main types of sugars that we consume, the others being glucose and sucrose, or table sugar. Fructose is naturally found in fruits but is also processed into substances such as High Fructose Corn Syrup, which we know to be used in sugary drinks, candy bars, and baked goods. Glucose is a less sweet sugar and is found in starchy fruits and vegetables and other carbohydrates. Our body breaks these foods down into glucose, which is a common energy source for our body.
The study found that excess fructose consumption can lead to fructose metabolism in the brain. Fructose metabolism is just what it sounds like. It’s the process of the body breaking down the fructose to use for energy, and disposing of the rest. Usually, this is done in the liver; however, when too much fructose is consumed, the liver cannot process and break down all of it. When this happens, the blood stream will take up the remaining fructose and carry it throughout the body, including the brain. This is where the problems arise. When fructose metabolism is carried out by cells in the brain, the process takes away from time and energy those cells have to perform other brain functions. Dr. Johnson explained, “in essence, we propose that Alzheimer’s disease is a modern disease driven by changes in dietary lifestyle in which fructose can disrupt cerebral metabolism and neuronal function.”
So, as the brain focuses on breaking down all of that fructose we consumed, it ends up having too many tasks and then can’t keep up with the normal functions. With Alzheimer’s disease being a condition caused by brain injury or other diseases that cause memory loss and healthy brain function, excess fructose can be a catalyst in triggering this disease. Dr. Johnson wants to perform more tests before confirming the direct correlation of the two; however, the current research does suggest that sweet tooths like myself need to be careful when consuming sugar.
To avoid high quantities of fructose, it is best to cut out processed sweet snacks such as pastries, ice cream, and chocolates as much as possible. Although this doesn’t mean you have to stop eating them altogether, it is best to reach for fruit, a date with some nut butter, smoothie, or other naturally sweet treats. Again, moderation is key, as fruit also has fructose, although much less than a processed snack with high fructose corn syrup or another fructose-based sweetener. What’s your favorite naturally sweet snack?
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