what is sugar intolerance?

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sucrose intolerance awareness week

Is it possible to go "sugar free?"

Since this is Sucrose Intolerance Awareness Week, I decided to try a sucrose-free diet to understand what life might be like if I suffered from sucrose intolerance.

First, learning the different names for sucrose and why I might not tolerate it was important. Sucrose is a disaccharide made up of a glucose unit and a fructose unit that must be split by an enzyme for absorption. If the split doesn’t happen, the sucrose cannot be used for energy and goes to the colon where it ferments, causing gas, bloating, stomach pain, and diarrhea.

People who suffer from lactose intolerance experience the same types of symptoms, and their solution is to avoid lactose-containing foods. That isn’t too tough considering lactose is in milk and recognizing and eliminating milk is pretty easy. Not so much for sucrose. Sucrose is also known as table sugar, beet sugar, confectioner’s sugar, coconut sugar, maple syrup, honey, molasses, powdered sugar, brown sugar, and cane syrup. It also occurs naturally in many fruits and vegetables, which do not require a food label. Unless you do some research, you’ll have a hard time eliminating it completely.

In spite of these difficulties, I decided to give eliminating sucrose a try and headed out to my local grocery store with a list of low-sucrose fruits, like berries and grapes, as well as no-sucrose veggies, like broccoli and cauliflower. Oranges, apples, carrots, and beets all have sucrose as their primary sugar, so as delicious as these fruits and vegetable are, they were off the list. Other than the fruits and veggies that I had researched, I had to rely on the food labels to tell me if sucrose was hiding in my foods.

The bread aisle was interesting. I found that most breads have moved away from using high fructose corn syrup and gone back to sugar. For sucrose-intolerant people, high-fructose corn syrup doesn’t cause any issues since it isn’t sucrose; but in an effort to be “healthier,” companies have stopped using the syrup in a large number of products. Many of the breads contained brown sugar, honey, and regular sugar, so they were not an option. Lettuce-wrap sandwiches became the choice for a few days.

Next up, the condiment aisle. Forget about salad dressings; each one I checked had sugar, even those with high-fructose corn syrup threw some sugar in for good measure. Why the heck does ranch dressing need sugar? Your guess is as good as mine. Vinegar and oil was the only option. Ketchup, cane sugar, and mustard should be safe; however, the label said “spices” so I decided to skip these, too. Mayo it is then! You get the idea of how my shopping trip went. Chinese foods were out, pasta sauces contain sugar, and even my taco seasoning contained sugar. After a long visit to the store, I made it home with my sucrose-free basket.

I thought I had it all figured out and began making a calzone for dinner. I used pizza dough that, according to the label, didn’t have any sugar and sugar-free sauce; I added zucchini, mushrooms, and yellow squash. My mozzarella was also sucrose-free, so this was turning out to be a meal that seemed pretty typical. I folded the crust over, vented it, and then brushed it with some olive oil. Then I shook some garlic salt on it without even thinking. Guess what? Garlic salt contains SUGAR! I was so excited that I made something that my teenager would enjoy and, whammy, some surprise sucrose. Dinner was ruined for me.

My plan was to spend the week sugar-free, but this adventure lasted only two full days because the life of a busy professional ramped up. I was not in control of the preparation of my meals after that and was at the mercy of airport restaurants, hotel-catered lunches, and dinners out. But those two sucrose-free days made it abundantly clear to me that if I suffered from Genetic Sucrase-Isomaltase Deficiency (GSID), it would be next to impossible to avoid all sources of sucrose.

The next time you’re out shopping, I challenge you to try going sucrose-free; but fair warning – you may be at the store two hours for about 15 items.