Just kidding.

Although today I want to take a moment to emphasise and clarify a really crucial issue that a few unmentionables in the comments insist on challenging: that my focus on fructose is misguided. Or, more specifically, that substituting fructose with glucose as a sweetener is misguided (which I don’t actually do, but more in a second…).

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Photography by Angie Gassner & Thomas Mailer

I’m responding to you lot (calm and reasonable readers; not Mr Unmentionable) in the event that you might be wondering if I care about the issue at all.

I do. And to be honest, I’ve had to double-check my position. Just to get clear myself. And for this, I’m grateful to the Mr Unmentionables out there who like to go after me for encouraging people to get real with their sugar intake. As I emphasise throughout my books and other materials, I’m constantly exploring and researching this area and am open to tweaking my thinking as I go. Then sharing it with anyone (calm and reasonable) in my orbit who cares to read on.

So, let’s break it down.

Why do I target fructose specifically (and not sugar as a whole, or glucose)?

Sugar is 50:50 fructose and glucose. It’s the fructose bit that I say is problematic. This is because:

1. Fructose is metabolised by our liver (while glucose is metabolised by all our cells). This taxes the liver BIG TIME: it spends so much energy turning fructose into other molecules that it may not have much energy left for all its other functions. Leading to the production of uric acid, which also promotes insulin resistance and is linked to a whole bunch of metabolic diseases.

2. This liver dumpage also causes it to store the fructose as fat, especially in the liver, and triglycerides, leading to a fatty liver and insulin resistance.

3. Fructose stuffs our appetite mechanisms. Our bodies strictly regulate the amount of glucose in the blood. Glucose stimulates the pancreas to secrete the hormone insulin, which helps remove excess glucose from blood, and bolsters production of the hormone leptin, which suppresses hunger. We eat glucose, our bodies register this and the message goes out, “stop eating now”. Fructose doesn’t do this.

4. Indeed the metabolic havoc it wreaks can cause our body to store all food as fat.

5. Worse, fructose actually raises levels of the hormone grehlin, which keeps us hungry.

6. Fructose is highly addictive.

7. Fructose is twice as sweet as glucose.

The bottom line (literally):

Fructose makes us fat, we can’t stop eating it, and it makes us eat more.

So does substituting fructose with glucose fix the problem?

Nope. In I Quit Sugar (the print book) I advocate using substitute sweeteners:

  • Stevia. A plant that contains neither fructose or glucose.
  • Rice Malt Syrup. Made from fermented cooked rice, it’s a blend of complex carbohydrates, maltose and glucose. RMS is a slow-releasing sweetener so it doesn’t dump on the liver as much as pure glucose does.

(PS, while we’re being helpful and upfront, there has been a bit of media attention about arsenic being found in rice malt syrup, based on some studies done in Scotland and the US. We asked Pureharvest, who make the rice malt syrup we use, about this and they got their product tested (they do so regularly using independent laboratories). The tests show their syrup is well below the detectable level for arsenic in food. FYI, the studies refer to an arsenic standard that applies to drinking water, not food. The problem with using a water standard is that the average person does not use syrup to replace drinking water, so the quantities of total arsenic consumed from rice malt syrup would not equate. Also, any arsenic found in Pureharvest rice malt syrup does not include the inorganic arsenic from herbicides and pesticides.

  • Glucose Syrup. This is 100% glucose. I don’t personally use pure glucose or dextrose in any of my own recipes. I never have…for a range of reasons, one of which is the fact that so much of it needs to be used to get a sweet flavour. But I do list it as a safe sweetener, so I can see why there’s room for confusion.

So, some clarification:

  • In my other ebooks, in the 8-Week Program and in my second book (coming out in March), I state that I use stevia and rice malt syrup only, as above. Where there was room for confusion, I’ve tweaked copy to ensure this message is now clear.
  • In all my materials, I stress using as little sweetener as you can. I stress using none, highlighting, for instance, that I don’t always use sweetener in my recipes.
  • In all my recipes, across all my materials, I use very little sweetener. The most amount of rice malt syrup I have ever used in my recipes is 1/2 cup,  spread between 8-10 serves.

I do feel that some of my peers who advocate glucose syrup and dextrose as a substitute use too much of it, up to 2 cups in some recipes.

  • In all my materials I include the warning that even non-fructose sugars are not good to eat in large quantities and will cause insulin wobbliness too, albeit in a far more manageable way. Consuming any sweetener – even the “fake” ones that don’t contain sugar as such – can cause a blood sugar spike and continue a blood sugar addiction. Just the sweet taste can trigger insulin and metabolic responses.  
  • There is some conjecture that some of the health impacts of fructose can’t be completely distinguished from the health impacts of glucose, or sugar broadly. Of course, studies to this effect are tricky since rarely do we eat fructose or glucose in isolation….

But it’s a moot point!

First up, there’s no doubt fructose causes a host of health issues that glucose doesn’t. The science is in, see above.

But!!! Even if you wish to contest this in any way, it’s redundant…

I don’t push excess glucose consumption anyway.

Further, and this is the really important point…

The I Quit Sugar philosophy and 8-Week Program is about a bunch of meta principles that go beyond this.

* I Quit Sugar is about quitting all sweetener, including glucose (and rice malt syrup and stevia) for 6 weeks.

Then inviting everyone to reintroduce sweetener back in gradually (with recipes that use very little sweetener of any kind).

* Plus, at its core, its about cutting out sugar in general (the fructose AND the glucose halves of the sugar equation).

We don’t eat fructose on its own anyway; it’s always in table sugar or HFCS form. What’s the issue then? Who’d want to argue against cutting table sugar and HFCS? (Aside from those with interests in the sugar industry.)

* It’s also about cutting out processed foods and reintroducing new ways of whole, healthy eating. This is The Point!

Yep, this is the meta point that Mr Unmentionable et al really seem to miss. Or choose to miss. Again, who’d want to argue against this nutritional advice?

So my clarification is to the way I present glucose in the print edition of I Quit Sugar. And my apology goes out to those who might have gone ahead and dumped large amounts of glucose into their cooking of their own accord using their own recipes.

I hope this clarifies things.

Have your say, leave a comment.

  • H

    I’d eat whole stevia leaves if I could get them. I wouldn’t eat the refined, processed version of stevia. Same as I’ll eat whole brown rice, but definitely not the refined, processed version, which is rice malt syrup.

    Over a hundred years of research and evidence tells us refined, processed foods are bad for us, especially sugars. The research about fructose is fascinating but I’m not about to suddenly start eating refined sugars because of it.

    That’s my two cents.

  • H

    Although it’s true that the science on this topic is growing, to say “the science is in” is a gross overstatement. First of all, the scientists do not agree with each other about fructose. Secondly, if you understand scientific method then you understand that scientists
    are only ever making theories, and that they fine tune, adjust and change their theories all the time. Thirdly, it seems crazy to place all your faith in some very recent research which, at best, fills in a couple of new pieces in a puzzle with more gaps than a net curtain.

    Our current understanding of obesity and sugar metabolism is patchy at best. It is a work in progress. What if the next couple of puzzle pieces shed a completely different light on fructose? I mean, thirty years ago, “the science was in” about saturated fat, but it’s turned out they were mistaken.

    Scientists change and amend their theories all the time. I think it is intelligent to view these discoveries about fructose the same way scientists do: as new theories and a fascinating new development, but definitely not the whole answer.

    It takes about twenty years of huge, expensive, controlled studies to conclusively prove a theory, and fructose research is nowhere near that stage. On this topic, the science is most definitely NOT “in”.

    The evidence is very strong indeed that refined sugars and refined carbohydrates are bad for us. We’ve got about a hundred years worth and so that science probably could be called “in”.

    However, the evidence is not nearly strong enough yet to start choosing between different refined sugars and saying, “This one’s bad, but this one’s OK.” How do you really, really know for sure that rice malt syrup – a refined sugar – is OK? You don’t.

    You’re placing all your bets on a couple of new puzzle pieces in the vast, unsolved mystery that is the human body. I just don’t think it’s smart.

  • Bambi94

    This is the most uninformed piece of shit writing I have ever read.

  • Jessica

    Hi Sarah,

    I love the drive you have for encouraging people to eat more whole foods and less sweets/ fats. I do however want to address some false facts surrounding RMS –

    ‘Rice Malt Syrup. Made from fermented cooked rice, it’s a blend of complex carbohydrates, maltose and glucose. RMS is a slow-releasing sweetener so it doesn’t dump on the liver as much as pure glucose does.’

    This is incorrect. The leading GI research department, responsible for commercial GI testing of local and international products found RMS to have a GI of 98 and GL of 8 which makes it practically the same as glucose. http://www.glycemicindex.com/foodSearch.php?num=2648&ak=detail

    I contacted Pure Harvest to clarify this information and was told that their supporting documents up to date had claimed a GI of 25. This claim is easily referenced on the internet however all of those references don’t contain any citation as to where the information came from. Pure Harvest are following up with the GI research institution as we speak and will need to change their labelling accordingly.


  • Mucksm

    Hi anyone know if rice malt syrup with sprouted barley in it would be ok?

  • Elaine8

    Sarah, could you start including references for the statements you make surrounding the fructose/ glucose debate? It would greatly improve your argument if you could substantiate the things you post with evidence from scientific papers!

  • DakotaNZ

    Hi Sarah, I am quite new to this and have been looking around your website to try to find some answers to a couple of things I am curious about but I haven’t seen them yet, so thought I’d just ask. I live in New Zealand so am not sure if the names I use will be the same as the names you use for products, but we have something called Malt that I believe is extracted from Barley, it is only 1-2% fructose, would you consider this OK for someone trying to quit sugar? I add it to smoothies for extra energy and a health kick. Also I am a type 1 diabetic so normally have Jelly Beans if I am experiencing low glucose levels, I am thinking of getting some glucose tablets to use instead but wondered if you had any other easy solutions for when I need a quick hit? Thanks for your help 🙂

  • Brenda Donny

    Hi Sarah, Just discovering your blog, resonate with tons of it so far! Thx for explaining your thoughts on brown rice syrup, I was wondering and now you clarified :). Do you address xylitol and erythritol on your site? I know both of these do not contain fructose…have you baked with them in small quantities or what are your thoughts on these “sugar alcohols”? Would be very interested in your perspective! Thanks! Brenda in USA/Florida

  • Veronika

    Sad to say but I’ve legit become addicted to your rice malt syrup, it kills my mood for sweets and just in general makes me feel so good and tastes amazing! sadly it may be complex but it’s GI rating is 98, it would of been better if I got addicted to something with less GI.

    Might have overdone it today, I was feeling fine a moment ago and now I feel like puking.

  • Trudie

    Wow so glad to read this – I have a self-diagnosed intolerance to fructose – I won’t go into details but too much of it makes for unpleasant toilet trips! I am also trying to loose a bit of weight but it is in so many ‘low-cal’ foods and and recipes for slimming always include some kind of artificial sweetener. I was unsure about using Stevia as I couldn’t find anywhere that said what the fructose to glucose ratio was (for an intolerance you need one of glucose to take one of fructose through to absorb) so really pleased to see you say it is fructose free (although I’ve heard it has an after taste). I hadn’t heard of rice malt syrup but this sounds like it could be the answer to my prayers when I fancy baking. Thank you for such an informative article!

  • Angelica Klimon

    I agree very much with Sarah I think you would however have been able to get away from all the confusion by saying “I quit fructose and sugar”. Too many people are not knowledgeable about the subject. But i Guess saying “I quit fructose “. As a title sells less then “I quit sugar” which is misleading.

  • Law C

    Hi, I’m a bit confused and would love to understand more.

    In the piece above it mentions in point 1 that, “Fructose is metabolised by our liver (while glucose is metabolised by all our cells)”

    In the bit about Rice Malt Syrup it says, “RMS is a slow-releasing sweetener so it doesn’t dump on the liver as much as pure glucose does.”

    Is this piece saying glucose is better for liver health or not. If someone could explain I would really appreciate it.