I am trying to eat healthy, and trying to lower my cholesterol. In the mornings, I blend a smoothie (strawberries, banana, and a little OJ). Someone mentioned to me that this is very high in sugar, and subsequently puts a strain on my pancreas as well as other organs. Can you help me understand the difference table sugar and sugar that I find in fruit.
-- Mike McDonald
New York, NY
Your question is actually two in one, because high cholesterol and sugar intake are unrelated. So, the "good" news is, your sweet tooth is not worsening your cholesterol problem.
Let's start at the beginning.
One of the most important cholesterol-lowering tools in the nutrition box is dietary fiber, particularly soluble fiber.
Oat bran is 100% soluble fiber, wheat bran offers 100% insoluble fiber (which is still good, but does not help with lower cholesterol) and fruits and vegetables offer a mix of soluble and insoluble fiber).
It is also important to know that whole fruits offer more fiber than their juiced counterparts. For instance, a medium orange offers 4.5 grams of fiber, while a cup of orange juice provides zilch.
While we're talking cholesterol, allow me to say this: your worst enemies are saturated fats (the type of fat prevalent in animal products and whole dairy foods).
If smoothies are your absolute favorite food and you can't imagine starting off your morning without one, then I recommend buying ready-to-eat unsweetened oatmeal and adding a few tablespoons to your smoothie. It won't affect the flavor. If anything, it will give the finished product a slightly thicker consistency.
Now, let's talk sugar.
All fruits contain fructose -- a naturally occurring sugar. When you eat a fruit, the fiber in it helps "lower the effect" of fructose (the fiber helps revent a sharp spike of your blood glucose levels).
Smoothies lack fiber, so you don't have this blood sugar stabilizing tool. That being said, if you accompany a smoothie with a high fiber cereal, whole wheat toast, or a bowl of oatmeal, you are providing your body with fiber.
If you are making your smoothies at home consisting of fresh fruits and orange juice, I wouldn't be too concerned about your sugar intake (unless you have diabetes, and then we have other issues to discuss).
If, however, you are buying these smoothies at stores, I would raise the red flag slightly, since a many of them have added sucrose (table sugar) and an extra bundle of calories.
The difference between natural and added sugars? I like to think of naturally-occurring sugars as sweet bonuses in nutritious packages. For example, watermelon has fructose, but also offers antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Added sugar, on the other hand, only provides calories.