Fructose vs Glucose: Which is worse for your gut?

Maybe you have heard that fructose is the same as glucose, or that they can be equally damaging to your gut.  This comparison is complicated, and as always it depends on how it is being delivered to your body.  

This relationship is complicated because fructose is found in fruit, fruit overall is a net positive as far as what it brings to our bodies and our digestive tracts like vitamins, anti-oxidants, and fiber.  In this blog I am not here to vilify fruit, as it is rare that we over consume fruit to the point that it causes harmful messaging like processed fructose dose.  In Western societies we have evolved into an overconsumption of fructose when compared to our great-grandparents back in the early 1900’s, and it’s not because we are eating more fruit.  Our great-grandparents ate on average 15 grams of fructose, equaling one whole piece of fruit or 1 cup of blueberries.  Now, in 2022, the average American eats more than 45 grams of fructose, and most of this is from High Fructose Corn Syrup, or HFCS.   Most of this is coming from sweetened sodas (think Pepsi, Coca Cola, Mountain Dew) or sweetened juices, but we also eat it in the form of sauces, muffins, pastries, cookies and cakes.  It has even been found in pizza, burgers and certain medications!

So, why, if the calorie count is the same in fructose and glucose, is fructose worse for us and our gut? Fructose triggers our body to store energy whereas glucose triggers our body to produce energy.  Fructose prevents you from reaching that full feeling as it reduces leptin, our hormone that stops us from wanting to eat more.  This then triggers more appetite, and eventually causes our body to be resistant to our leptin hormone.  Glucose has a more normal communication with leptin, triggering it and allowing the feeling of fullness.  

When it comes to our gut, fructose also causes its share of damage, both in the liver and the intestines.  High fructose intake has been linked to NAFLD (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease), but also has been linked to making our guts more leaky.  A leaky gut can cause all kinds of problems- allowing toxins, bacteria, viruses, and unwanted food particles to pass through to our blood stream and wreak havoc on our gut!  This toxic environment, also called endotoxemia, can then create inflammation, and trigger that inflammation and buildup of fatty tissue in our liver.  

I am not suggesting we all start loading up on glucose either (not anymore than we already do), but processed fructose is a real problem in our Western societies, as is the increasing rate of fatty liver disease, leaky gut, and obesity, particularly with our kids.  It’s best to follow the ideas below as these will help you keep processed sugars out of your life.

Simple ways to eliminate processed fructose from your diet include:

  • Eat whole foods that aren’t processed, meaning real food from the earth
  • Read your labels- not just the sugar grams- read the actual ingredient label and avoid anything with high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, fructose syrup, or processed fructose of any type.  
  • Avoid fast food, if you must go look up your fast food place ahead of time and know what is in the food you are about to put in your body.  This will help you make better choices. 
  • Shop in the outside aisles of the grocery store, this is where the fresh food is!

If you need help boosting your gut health and understanding what foods truly nourish your gut and boost your energy then book a call with my team to learn about a lifetime membership to our gut healing coaching program, Trust your Gut: Heal your gut with food and nutrients!