You may have heard about it from friends at yoga, your trainer at the gym, or seen the words bouncing around blogs: fructose intolerance. You’ve maybe even seen the FODMAP acronym starting to appear on packaging. But what does it all mean? And does fructose intolerance actually affect you?
FODMAP - “What the Fructose?”
Fructose: Deciphering this Emerging Intolerance
Fructose intolerance is about as much fun as it sounds. It leaves your belly bloated, tight, and sore. Most of my clients who present to clinic with fructose intolerance talk about being too scared to eat out with friends, and say that an accidental slip-up sends them in to the fetal position in a dark corner somewhere. To put it bluntly: fructose intolerance sucks. And its incidence is definitely on the rise.
But just as was the fate for gluten and dairy, everybody is jumping on the low-FODMAP bandwagon and badmouthing fructose. I’ve heard people claim to have fructose intolerance because they have itchy skin, or headaches, or bad sleep. Whilst those things may indeed be linked to food, it’s unlikely they’re related directly to fructose.
Fructose intolerance is very similar to lactose intolerance and is as simple as this: if you don’t have the right number of receptors in the small intestine, then you can’t absorb all the fructose in your food. If you don’t absorb it, then it’s left as food for the bacteria in your large intestine. They throw a little fructose party, absorbing that which you couldn’t, and in return they pump out hydrogen gas, blowing you up like a balloon.
So why is there all this confusion? Because of sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup and agave. These guys aren’t good for anyone. These sickly sweet additives are used in food instead of glucose because they don’t spike insulin, and because less of them is needed to get the same level of satisfying sweetness. So that means they’re good for us, right? Wrong. Consuming these guys for as little as six weeks has been shown to significantly raise dangerous blood lipids (‘bad cholesterol’) and create liver disease. But to compare these highly processed additives to a piece of fruit is not, if you will, comparing oranges with oranges (yep, I went there).
The verdict? Everyone should be avoiding high-fructose corn syrup and agave nectar like the plague, but that doesn’t necessarily make you fructose intolerant. And if the symptoms I mentioned earlier do sound familiar, then maybe pay close attention to what foods set it off – apples, pears, garlic, onion, and honey are the biggest offenders. But honey’s not a fruit, you say? Right, but fructose intolerance doesn’t restrict itself to fruit. In fact, it’s a whole family of related molecules – commonly called the FODMAPs – that can wreak havoc in your gut.
The bottom line is that concentrated fructose gloop is bad for everyone, but fructose in its natural state is totally harmless unless you actually have an intolerance. And if you do have this intolerance, and you need to jump on a low FODMAP diet, believe me you’ll know about it.