“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.