What Sugar Intolerance Is And How It Can Be Managed
Sugar intolerance, the inability of the body to properly absorb sugar, goes by several names, which mean nearly though not always exactly the same thing. Your body may not be able to efficiently process or digest any food that contains sugar, although this somewhat surprisingly does not include the kind of sugar, sucrose, we (used to) sprinkle on our breakfast cereal. The intolerance is most likely a fructose intolerance, where fructose is a natural sugar, a sugar found in most fruits, as well as in many vegetables and in some processed foods as well. Fructose is a type of carbohydrate. That brings up the third type of sugar intolerance, a carbohydrate intolerance. Replacing sugars in the diet with artificial sweeteners can help, unless the sweetener is sorbitol, which creates the same problem as sugar does, and therefore constitutes a fourth type of sugar intolerance. Even those diet drinks which claim to be sugar free often contain sugar alcohol, which the body may be unable to tolerate.
Fructose Is Usually The Villain - One reason this type of food intolerance might seem a little confusing is simply due to the fact that there are several kinds of sugars. Generally speaking, when we talk about a sugar intolerance, we should really call it a fructose intolerance. Calling it a carbohydrate intolerance is OK too, but not all carbohydrates are sugars. In fact, one of the main methods of dealing with this type of food intolerance is with a diet that contains few if any sugar carbohydrates, which are simple carbohydrates, and contains more of the complex carbohydrates. Carbohydrates also include starches, which the body turns into sugar for fuel. Some people may have a starch intolerance in addition to a problem with sugar, while others do not.
What Causes The Symptoms? - What is happening such that the body cannot adequately deal with sugar or fructose? The main thing that is occurring is that the small intestinal lining does not have enough of a certain type of cell needed to aid in the digestion of fructose. The small intestinal lining in most people has an adequate number of these cells, but for some it does not. If the small intestine cannot digest all of the fructose or sugar contained in the food passing through the small intestine, what remains moves on into the large intestine, where it can create problems.
Bacterial Action In The Large Intestine - A simplistic explanation would be that the sugars, once present in the large intestine, undergo a fermentation process. Fermentation is not a function of the large intestine, so problems occur, including the symptoms often associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The sugars may not actually ferment in the large intestine, but they are nevertheless consumed by bacteria, which is what causes unpleasant symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea, and even cramps. To make matters worse, one of the symptoms of a sugar intolerance is a sugar craving, which when satisfied will only compound the problem. The presence of excessive sugars in the large intestine can also lead to an iron deficiency, the symptoms of which are generally experienced as fatigue.
Sucrose Is OK - Ironically, table sugar, which consists of sucrose and not fructose, is generally not a problem. Too much sucrose can of course cause a number of other problems, which is why we are told not to use too much table sugar, but few people have a problem with it as far as a sugar intolerance is concerned. As far as artificial sweeteners are concerned, those with a fructose intolerance can safely use saccharin.
What To Eat And What To Avoid - When it comes to foods, one can of course eat meat, dairy products, and fat, since none of these contain fructose. If only those foods were eaten, it would not be a particularly healthy diet. Any diet that does not contain fruits or vegetables is not a healthy one. The key is to know which fruits and vegetables are safest to eat, and in what amounts. This can of course vary somewhat from person to person, and there may be certain fruits that a given individual may need to avoid completely. Since the problem in the small intestine is that it is unable to deal with all of the sugar that may pass through it, it's logical to assume that for most people, sugars will be adequately digested as long as there is not an excessive amount.
Just about any vegetable can be safely eaten in small amounts, and root vegetables, beans, and dark leafy greens can be eaten in any amount. Some vegetables such as corn and tomatoes contain more sugars than others, and therefore may need to be eaten in limited amounts.
As far as fruit is concerned, most berries, avocados, oranges and bananas are generally safe in a diet designed to restrict the amount of sugar intake, while apples, peaches, grapes, and cherries should be avoided, or eaten only in limited amounts.
Generally speaking, a fructose intolerance cannot be cured. It can in most cases be easily treated, and treatment normally consists of following a low fructose diet. If the intolerance problem is hereditary, the diet will usually need to be quite strict, and as fructose or sugar free as possible.