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Are Fruit Sugars Healthier?

By Laura Niedziocha

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that approximately 16 percent of total calories taken in each day in the average American diet, are from added sugars. The majority of these sugars come from beverages, desserts and candy. Although fruit sugar shares a chemical structure similar, or identical to, added sugar, the sugar from fruit is a healthier choice.

Fructose

Fructose is the main type of sugar in fruits. It is a monosaccharide, meaning it is made of only one sugar molecule. It is extremely close to the sugar, glucose. The only difference in the two is the way the atoms are arranged to form the molecule. Fructose is a highly sweet saccharide that is primarily found in fruits, honey and is a part of the molecular makeup of table sugar.

Fructose vs. Added Sugars

Fruit sugars are healthier than the kind of sugar in a soda or cake. This is not because it is made differently or even because your body recognizes it as different, but simply because of the nutrients it is taken in with. When you eat a piece fruit, you are not only eating fructose, you are also taking in water, fiber, vitamins and minerals in a low-calorie package. The water in a fruit helps to dilute the fructose sugar and the fruit contains a high volume of nutrient density. When you eat refined sugars, like those in soda or cake, they are in a more concentrated form and in a food that offers empty calories, as opposed to the range of beneficial nutrients in fruit.

Absorption of Fructose

Fructose can help deliver a more controlled amount of sugar into your blood, which may make it healthier. When you eat a piece of fruit, you take in a decent amount of fiber. An apple, for example, if eaten with the skin on delivers 4.4 grams of fiber along with its fructose. Eating fiber with sugar helps to slow the digestion and absorption of the sugar, resulting in a modest rise in glucose over time that may be healthier for your blood sugar levels.

Recommendations

The USDA recommends limiting your intake of refined sugars. Instead, focus your sugar intake on natural sources, like fruits. Try to eat between 1.5 and 2 cups of fruits each day, either dried, fresh or frozen, and limit your added sugar intake to 100 calories a day for women and 150 calories for men. Avoid sugary foods that provide few nutrients and remember that beverages, even fruit juice, can contain a large amount of refined sugars. Because juice lacks the fiber in whole fruit, your body can absorb the sugar more quickly, causing a spike in your blood sugar levels.

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