Dextrose Doubters

April 14, 2014 § 19 Comments

“On a Year of No Sugar, why was dextrose okay?”

I’ve gotten asked this question a lot lately, and although I do detail the answer in my book, I thought it might be helpful to give everyone the quick and easy version right here.

Remember how most sugar (sucrose) is made up of roughly half glucose and half fructose? Fructose is the bad part– the part which does not satisfy your hunger, does not get used by any of the cells in the body besides the liver, and when processed by the liver creates toxic byproducts which can be traced to virtually every major American health epidemic today: hypertension, liver disease, cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and Type II Diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome.

But dextrose…. what was that?  Lucky for me I had someone I could ask- Dr. Robert Lustig, the man behind “Sugar: The Bitter Truth,” and author of the New York Times Bestselling book on the topic of sugar Fat Chance, as well as the very man who had inspired our project in the first place. The first time I communicated with Dr. Lustig was before we began our No-Sugar Year: I wrote to tell him about our upcoming project and to get a better understanding of what a Year of No Sugar could look like. Throughout our year I communicated with Dr. Lustig as questions would continue to pop up from time to time and he was very generous and answered all our questions and more.

The dextrose question wasn’t going away, and I just wasn’t confident I was going to get this one right by myself. So when Dr. Lustig wrote back regarding the dextrose issue, and assured me that “dextrose is glucose,” and therefore, for our fructose-free purposes fine, I felt reassured to be back on track.

Later on, when I read Australian author and No Sugar expert David Gillespie’s book Sweet Poison, I was astonished to read that for him dextrose was not just one more mysterious ingredient found on boxes or bags at the grocery store, but a pantry staple in his no added sugar diet: he purchased dextrose and used it in cooking! I was intrigued. And after I ordered some I started experimenting with recipes he had developed as well as creating some of my own. In my book Year of No Sugar I even share, with David’s permission, his excellent coconut cake recipe, which is made using dextrose.

Year of No Sugar is specifically/ medically speaking a Year of No Added Fructose– the bad part of sugar.  Part of the real problem for many is that sugar is a word that is used in so many ways that it gets confusing fast: in addition to all the myriad names for sugar (invert sugar! date sugar! cane sugar! beet sugar! brown sugar!) there are simple sugars and complex sugars and blood sugars. How to sort it all out?

Well blood sugar levels (aka blood glucose levels) are of a great concern to people with diabetes and insulin resistance and other illnesses, so regulating glucose can be important for many people. If you suffer from one of these medical conditions, I recommend you consult your own doctor. Because my family is lucky not to suffer from one of these conditions, it was not one of the focuses for our year.

So here is the upshot: in our year, in our book, we were talking about plain old familiar Sugar, the kind that comes in the big white bag, and is dumped all-too liberally over our food supply in a wide variety of aliases— let’s call it Sugar with a capital “S.” It’s important to note that you can have Sugar without glucose and you can have glucose without Sugar, but you can’t have Sugar without fructose and you can’t have fructose without Sugar. Fructose is what makes Sugar, Sugar. We could live our whole lives entirely without fructose and never be the worse off for it.

Now, we didn’t bathe in dextrose, mind you. We didn’t free-base dextrose on our glass coffee table. We simply used this corn-based product to sweeten our occasional homemade baked goods to a much more subtle level of sweet than we ever could have imagined we’d appreciate. Dextrose is one-third the sweetness of table sugar but without the bad fructose; and, for those with gluten issues I’ll note that most dextrose is also gluten free. Other times I used brown rice syrup or barley malt syrup as these do not contain fructose either. Australian author Sarah Wilson, author of the book I Quit Sugar, also sweetens with brown rice syrup in many of her recipes.

There are so many persuasive reasons for Big Food to use added fructose— Sugar with a capitol “S”— in every place it can. But. It’s. A. Poison. And that’s the elephant in the hospital room that no one really wants to talk about.

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§ 19 Responses to Dextrose Doubters

  • kim ryan says:

    Is there a specific brand you prefer for dextrose? Does it come organic? What about milk sugars? Is milk sugars something to avoid as well? Why is stevia bad? I am enjoying your book. Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Kim! The brand I found at the time we were doing Year of No Sugar was “Now Sports,” which I found on Amazon and which I still use. That was the big 25 lb crazy plastic orange container I mention in the book. Since then, I’m happy to say, there have appeared other brands and smaller sizes available on Amazon, but I haven’t tried any of them yet. I haven’t heard of it being offered organic, although if you find it I’d love to know about it!

      Milk sugars- lactose- are fine, unless of course you are lactose intolerant. Stevia, which can be marketed as Truvia, for me falls under the category of “things we just don’t know enough about yet.” Although it is “natural” it is highly processed, as has been banned in various forms in other countries, due to purported link to controversial side effects. It’s just a big unknown, and since we’re only just now coming to understand the huge negative impact of sugar (another “natural,” yet highly processed ingredient)- which we’ve been using in earnest for the last 200 years or so, I chose to stay away- same goes for sugar alcohols and “fake” sugars such as saccharin and aspartame.

      Thanks for the excellent questions!

  • Lindy says:

    Why not use sugar substitutes?

  • jambahart says:

    Hi Eve!
    Loved your book! Thanks for sharing your adventures with a year of no sugar!
    I was just curious, would unprocessed stevia leaves while baking be the same as using fruit as a sweetener? That is to say, would using unprocessed stevia leaves be following the rules during your family’s year of no sugar?
    I was also wondering, has the dextrose been processed?
    Thanks!

    • Well, there are two ways to answer this question. One is to say that Stevia is not “extracted fructose” which, as you know, is what we were avoiding in our Year of No Sugar, when you get right down to it.

      On the other hand, we made the decision not to have Stevia during our Year of No Sugar, much in the same way that we ended up deciding to avoid sugar alcohols and other sugar substitutes: they are somewhat controversial and present some question marks that are potentially worrying- so we simply steered clear.

      Of course the concerns about things like aspartame and saccharine are well documented, and most people seem to be aware that sugar alcohols can cause, at minimum, gastric distress, but not that many Americans seem to be aware of the concerns about Stevia. Stevia has been alternately banned and approved for specific uses only in both the US and Europe due to it’s potential links to cardiovascular, renal and reproductive problems. According to the FDA, Stevia is not approved for use as a food additive, but only as a dietary supplement. The brand name product Truvia is approved, but it is not considered to be Stevia (interestingly) because it is highly refined.

      The dextrose is processed from corn into a fine powder that is about one third the sweetness of granulated sugar. Some health stores now carry it, but if all else fails you can order it online from places like Amazon in anywhere from five to 25 pound increments.

  • John says:

    Now Dextrose is made from GMO corn. Also Dextrose is a type of sugar that is bio identical to Glucose in the blood. When you eat or drink Dextrose is spikes blood sugar, which is exactly what causes type 2 diabetes. It is the highest on the GI index. A real sugar free diet would mean being all carbohydrate free as well. Look up Ketogenic Diet, this is a special diet for epilepsy. It basically also for the person to switch over to using fat as energy instead of sugar or proteins..

  • kate C. says:

    I just finished reading your book and found it very interesting. A year and a half ago I quit eating nearly all added sugars and pretty much all fruit for nearly two months. After that I found I didn’t even want sweet stuff anymore. The addiction had been broken, so then I could be less strict. Eventually (especially this past holidays) I think I ate too much and started to crave it again. I think for me I needed to get rid of anything that even tasted sweet to completely break my “need” for it. After a month of pretty much no sugar, I’m feeling better again.

    Anyway, my real comment is that while I don’t have any disagreements with your main point that fructose is the harmful molecule here, as a molecular biologist PhD (though not a carbohydrate chemist) I am quite confused by this passage in this post: “Sugar, the kind that comes in the big white bag, and is dumped all-too liberally over our food supply in a wide variety of aliases— let’s call it Sugar with a capital “S.” It’s important to note that you can have Sugar without glucose and you can have glucose without Sugar, but you can’t have Sugar without fructose and you can’t have fructose without Sugar. Fructose is what makes Sugar, Sugar. We could live our whole lives entirely without fructose and never be the worse off for it.”

    If you are calling table sugar “Sugar with a capital “S” then this is really chemically called sucrose (as I’m sure you know), which is made from glucose (dextrose) and fructose. So how can you say you can have Sugar (sucrose) without glucose (because glucose has to be half of it)? It is true you can have glucose without Sugar because that’s plain dextrose, and you can’t have Sugar without fructose, absolutely true. Also, scientifically speaking can’t you have pure fructose and not have Sugar (sucrose), just fructose?

    Maybe I’m being more scientific than you would like, but perhaps what you are trying to say is that fructose is what makes Sugar (sucrose) harmful? Because scientifically speaking you really need both glucose and fructose to have table sugar (“the kind that comes in the big white bag.”)

    • Hi Kate-
      Good question- let me clarify. Sugar is SUCH a confusing term and used in so many ways that it gets confusing fast as to what we mean when we say it. When I made the remark you quote here, I think I confuse matters by mentioning the “big white bag”- what I intended to reference here was popular sweeteners of all shapes and sizes: everything from granulated sugar to crystalline fructose… so some of these fall under the scientific term “sucrose” (which as you correctly point out is a combination of glucose and fructose) but others do not- for example crystalline fructose is all fructose, no glucose.

      You’re right when you guess that what I’m getting at here is the harmfulness of fructose- because it is much sweeter than glucose/dextrose alone, a sweetener containing fructose is what most people mean when they talk about “sugar.”

      So if we use alternatives that employ only glucose/dextrose- such as barley malt syrup, brown rice syrup or dextrose powder- then we are avoiding the fructose, but not having to live without “sweet.”

      Ack! Sometimes it feels like we have to be a molecular biologist just to understand this stuff! Hopefully, this answers what you are asking here. Thanks 🙂

  • Mark P says:

    Hello Eve,

    Loved your book and I am 7 days into my planned year now.

    Question for you – I baked some cookies with dextrose powder & cacao powder yesterday, my wife and I had one of the cookies at 7pm. When we went to bed at 10pm neither of us could sleep until about midnight.

    I am wondering if you ever experienced this after eating dextrose ? I’m thinking maybe the caffine in the cacao could be playing a part here as well…

    Thanks again

    Mark.

    • Hi Mark- Congrats on trying your own Year Of No You-Know-What! I have to say I have not experienced this side effect with dextrose- hmmmmm. That’s a lot of pep for just one measly cookie!Curious… Has it happened again? Were the cookies good, anyway? How goes it?-Eve

  • Dextrose is good stuff….I don’t eat any fruit , at all and no other sugar. Just dextrose.. Its sweet enough for me

  • this is great info. I have hypoglycemia and i quit eating all fruit and no added sugars. The only sugar I eat, outside of limited vegetables, is dextrose and I can tell you it helps me not have blood sugar lows and crashes. Every time I get really low, I get adrenaline shock – its not a good feeling.

  • Elaine says:

    Hi Eve,

    Recently I started to use one teaspoon of dextrose in my coffee. I have one cup each day. Is this a bad thing? I don’t have diabetes, nor do I want it! It does seem to give me a good feeling and awareness, if you will.

    Thanks, Elaine

    • Elaine- Sorry for my slow reply! If that is your dextrose for the day I can’t see why this would be a bad thing- especially if you are having very little (or no) regular (fructose containing)sugar throughout your day. Dextrose being glucose means our body needs it and knows what to do with it!
      All the best-Eve

  • kanechambers says:

    Okay, so I’m still confused about this. Is dextrose a sugar substitute?

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