Happiness Is a Bagel Away

How food and nutrition impact our mood and behavior.

This is Your Brain on Fructose

It's hard to sugar-coat fructose's effect on your brain.

All sweets are not alike.

Sure, it's easy to fool your tongue. It thinks they're all the same.

But ask the liver, the pancreas, and now the brain: sugars metabolize differently. In particular, fructose.

The latest study, published in JAMA this week, studied MRIs of subjects to find a possible link in the brain between the consumption of fructose and obesity. 

When subjects ingested glucose (the traditional form of sugar found in nature), the areas of the brain that regulate appetite and satiety were affected "normally." In other words, people registered tht they were feeling full from the intake.

But when the same people consumed fructose--a compound very similar in chemical makeup to glucose--the brains didn't activate in the same way. In fact, the hormones that impact satiety were barely boosted at all.

So why do we care? Fructose is normally just present in the fruits we eat. But today, its presence is everywhere as an artificially cooked up product make in a lab (a.k.a. high-fructose corn syrup or HFCS). It is now ubiquitious, found in just about every processed food you can imagine--from pretzels and soups to breads and, of course, anything meant to actually taste sweet.

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So, to start to kick your fructose habit today, I introduce 3 unexpected, healthier alternatives. I will add that they may be hard to find. Keen eyes of readers already noted to me that some sweeteners that you may think are better--like natural agave syrup--are still made of fructose, making it easier to consume more than you need. Read on for some alternatives. Your waistline--and your brain--may just thank you for the change:

Coconut Palm Sugar

Chances are, you haven't tried this one yet. Made from coconuts, it looks and tastes more like brown sugar than the refined white powder.

Brown Rice Syrup

Best for hot beverages like coffee or tea, this syrup is made from just brown rice and water. Plus, it tastes about half as sweet as table sugar. How pure is that?

Mmmm for Mesquite

I'm not talking about the chips you use in smoky barbecue. But pods from the mesquite tree do make a powdery alternative that are high in fiber and rich in protein, two key variables that also impact how much you eat and satiety.

Erinn Bucklan is a New York City-based journalist who writes regularly about nutrition, diet, food behavior, and fitness.

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