We all know candy, pastries, and other desserts are loaded with sugar. But even some foods you may think are sugar-free, like low-fat yogurt, peanut butter, and breakfast bars are hiding huge amounts fructose, or “fruit sugar”, which is naturally found in fruits but is also added to processed foods (often in the form of high-fructose corn syrup). The addition of fructose into foods has caused an unfortunate spike in sugar consumption for the average American over the last few decades, and new research shows this can make symptoms of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease worse.
IBD cases have risen since the 1950s—with the number of diagnoses increasing from 2 million in 1999 to 3 million in 2015, according to the CDC. This has led scientists at Cornell University and the University of North Carolina to look at the connection between fructose and IBD cases. In a new study, published in the September 2020 issue of the Cellular and Molecular Gastroenterology and Hepatology journal, they fed mice a high fructose diet to see its effects on IBD symptoms. The scientists concluded that “excess dietary fructose consumption has a pro-colitic effect,” and can actually increase IBD symptoms.
“Our findings provide evidence of a direct link between dietary fructose and IBD and support the concept that high consumption of fructose could worsen disease in people with IBD,” lead study author David Montrose, Ph.D., said, according to Medical News Today. “This is important because it has the potential to provide guidance on diet choices for IBD patients—something that is currently lacking.” (For tips on eating cleaner, here are the 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time.)
Specifically, fructose consumption can exacerbate diarrhea and cramping in IBD patients, and it can also lead to blood in the stool, fatigue, a fever, and more, according to the Mayo Clinic. While the cause of IBD is still unknown, this new study confirms that sugar affects the “composition, distribution and metabolic function of resident enteric microbiota” in the gut.
Of course, other health issues can arise from eating too much sugar for anyone, regardless of whether or not you have IBD. These include acne, irritability, sleeplessness, and wrinkles, just to name a few. Overconsumption of fructose can also cause weight gain, joint pain, high blood pressure, and more.
According to the American Heart Association, men should consume less than 9 teaspoons, 150 calories, or 36 grams of sugar per day. Women should only consume 6 teaspoons, which is about 25 grams and 100 calories.
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