Saturday, February 22, 2014

Can Your Sweet Tooth be Retrained?

There were two big sugar events this week. First, a batch of chocolate chip cookie dough was produced. Our practice concerning cookies is ordered around the empirical truth that cookies are only good when fresh baked (further chronicled here). We make dough and roll it into logs. One log goes in the freezer and the other stays in the fridge. Individual cookies are baked off for treats on an as needed basis. That this practice also precludes overindulgence is not lost on the nutrition hawk in me.

The second event was that we took delivery on a 10-pound bag of glucose (a/k/a dextrose powder). Quick chemistry on glucose: glucose and its chubby cousin, fructose, are monosaccharides. Put together they form sucrose, yes, a disaccharide. Sucrose is what's in your sugar bowl. That batch of cookies called for 3/4 cup of white granulated sugar and another 3/4 cup of light brown sugar (1). Whether your sugar bowl contains sugar-in-the-raw, or those fancy La Perruche sugar cubes I like so much, or white granulated table sugar you assumed originated from sugar cane but is actually from beets, it's all sucrose. It's all the same chemistry.

Once ingested, enzymes break sucrose back down into fructose and glucose. Your body needs glucose, it is a source of energy needed by cells (2). Your body does not need dietary fructose - it heads straight to the liver where the excess (most of it) is turned into fat. (3) This is old news, tho it would have been helpful information for my college girlfriends and I to have understood in the mid-90s TCBY craze.

[Did we not learn anything from TCBY? Frozen yogurt is back and it's bigger than before - and now it's there's candy and you can fill your own massive bowl.]

Glucose is either used immediately for energy or stored in muscle cells or the liver (4). Unlike fructose, insulin is secreted in response to elevated concentrations of glucose. (5) If that sounds like there's a difference between what glucose and fructose do in your body, you're right: researchers at the University of California Davis reported in the Journal of Clinical Investigation that high fructose consumption puts individuals at greater risk of developing heart disease and diabetes than ingesting a similar amount of glucose. (6)

Consumers and food producers limit sugar intake by using less, or by using natural or artificial sugar substitutes. It's important to note that your body doesn't differentiate between natural sugars. It doesn't matter if it's Lucky Charms or Fruit Juice Sweetened Corn Flakes. There's no difference between the sugars in a juicy grapefruit, the honey in your tea, the tomatoes in your marinara, or the cabernet in your glass - your body metabolizes it all the same way. What does matter is the amount, and - in my understanding - the glucose/fructose ratio. That ratio is the cause of the rage against high fructose corn syrup, and the science behind debunking the myth of agave which can contain 97% fructose (manufacturing processes differ and so do fructose levels). As for artificial sweeteners - which are neither carbohydrates nor nutritive - aside from the unknown unintended consequences, my main concern is that they hype our collective sweet tooth (7). Diet sodas have very specific amount of sweetener, and if that's the amount you're used to, your sweet tooth won't be satiated with less.

What we need to do is retrain our sweet tooth and get back to more reasonable sugar consumption levels. We can start doing this by drinking more water and less juice and soda. Reduce sugar every time you cook or bake (if a recipe calls for a cup, just use 2/3 - you won't ruin anything, trust me). Finally, look at nutrition labels carefully and try, with every choice, to consume less.

This morning I added a small teaspoon of glucose to my coffee. No cloying aftertaste, it just tasted like I cut back on my sugar. On the tongue glucose tastes just like table sugar - just a watered-down version - which is exactly what it should taste like, being half sugar. The texture is similar to superfine sugar.

I will report back on my baking-with-glucose experiments. In the meanwhile, should you want to try it, glucose (sold as dextrose powder) can be sourced on Amazon.

(1) Brown sugar being simply refined white sugar to which molasses (a byproduct of the refining process) has been added back in.
(2) Glucose -  Hyperphysics.com

(3) How Bad is Fructose? - American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
(4) What is the Difference Between Sucrose, Glucose & Fructose? - SF Gate
(5) and (6) All Sugars Aren't the Same: Glucose Is Better, Study Says - TIME
(7) Added Sugars - Harvard Medical School

More interesting reading on measuring sugar density:  What is Brix? from Stag's Leap Wine Cellars

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