There’s nothing simple about sugar.

While health experts advise reducing the amount of sugar we eat, that’s easier said than done. And not just because we crave sugar, but because there are so many forms of sugar: some healthier and natural, and others are processed and harmful. For instance, most of the public know that the true unhealthy sugar culprit is added sugar … think high-fructose corn syrup. That doesn’t mean the natural, healthier sugar can’t be harmful on its own. Specifically, fructose, a sugar found naturally in fruits and veggies.

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While fructose malabsorption is one fructose-related issue, as well as those who are simply sensitive to too much of this sugar, a recent study has found that fructose consumption may actually be linked to ADHD and other neurodevelopment disorders. All of this is due to the link between fructose consumption and foraging-like behaviors. There’s a lot to unpack, so let’s take a deeper dive right into the study!

What is Fructose?

You may think that fructose is just sugar, but there’s actually more to understanding this compound than meets the eye.

Fructose is referred to as “fruit sugar” and it’s a monosaccharide — a simple sugar that just happens to be your body’s “preferred carb-based energy source.” Oftentimes, you’ll hear that this is a healthy type of sugar because it’s found in “fruit, honey, agave, and most root vegetables,” yet it’s also the main type of sugar found in high-fructose corn syrup used in processed foods. That’s because “fructose is the sweetest tasting of the different types of sugar, [and] it’s used in a compound called HFCS, which is ‘present in candy, baked goods, and sodas, and other processed foods.'”

What are Foraging-Like Behaviors?

Before jumping into the new fructose study, it’s important to take a moment to break down foraging-like behaviors.

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Alright, so what are foraging-like behaviors, and why are they so important? You may believe that foraging behaviors are only related to the action of foraging, but it turns out these behaviors include “all the methods by which an organism acquires and utilizes sources of energy and nutrients.” This is an incredibly broad definition! Foraging behaviors include the “location and consumption of resources, as well as their retrieval and storage, within the context of the larger community.”

Understanding foraging behaviors has even been turned into an entire study called foraging theory, which “seeks to predict how an animal would choose to forage within its environment, based on the knowledge of resource availability, competition, and predation risk.”

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Foraging theory not only has helped scientists take a closer look at our ancestors and what made us who we are today, but it’s also turning out to be a useful form of study to breakdown why we do things currently and how we will act in the future.

All About the Fructose Study

The fructose study specifically looked at the link between fructose consumption and foraging-like behaviors, which — to recap again — involves “behaviors that support seeking out new sources of food and water — risk-taking, impulsivity, increased movement, rapid processing of information with less attention to details, and sometimes aggression.” Turns out that while fructose is a “source of energy” it can also trigger these behaviors.

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At one time, this natural response was “useful for animals building up energy stores before hibernation or long-distance migration,” yet humans no longer require these types of energy resources. That means when humans consume fructose, these foraging behaviors manifest in symptoms similar to “ADHD, bipolar disorder, and other disorders.”

Along with noting the connection between foraging behaviors and fructose, the study also looked at the connection between these conditions and an increase in the “rate of obesity, which comes alongside a rise in the intake of sugars over the past century.” For example, in 2010 researchers found that for some groups “added sugars made up 25 percent of their calorie intake.”

Researchers confirm that more study is necessary, but many support the “idea that excess sugars may stimulate foraging-like behaviors” causing a rise in certain neurodevelopmental disorders. That’s because there are several mechanisms in which “sugar and ultra-processed foods might worsen symptoms of mood disorders and even psychosis, such as an increase in inflammation or oxidative stress in the brain.” So, even if the link between fructose and foraging-like behaviors is tenuous, the link between added sugars and mental health is very strong.

Low-Fructose, Nutrient-Dense Substitutes

Maybe this study has piqued your interest and you want to try limiting fructose for a spell. Possibly, you’re just on a low sugar kick. No matter the reason for decreasing your fructose intake, you’re in luck when it comes to the plant-based world! There is a slew of lower fructose food options that are just as tasty, sweet, and nutrient-dense as those high-fructose options.

Avocado

Avocados are a staple in a plant-based diet. They are nutrient-dense, super creamy, and have a somewhat neutral avocado taste making them perfect for substituting to make a non-healthy recipe super healthy! On top of that, avocados are on the lower end of the fructose spectrum, which means you can still enjoy as much avocado as your want without sacrificing your sugar intake for the day.

Try out a few sweet-inspired avocado recipes: 4-Ingredient Chocolate Pudding, Green Machine Brownies: Kale, Zucchini, and Avocado, Avocado-Mint Chip Ice Cream, or this Chocolate Cinnamon Mousse.

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Banana

This one surprised me! Bananas are so super sweet that I just figured they were rich in fructose, but turns out this fruit is on the lower end. Not only are they great for a low-fructose diet, but bananas are rich in potassium, magnesium, vitamin B6, and manganese, nutrients that are incredibly essential for a balanced healthy diet. Consumption of bananas has been linked to healthy moderation of blood sugar levels, better digestive health, healthy weight management and heart health, and better satiation.

Bananas are also key when substituting added sugars from your diet as they provide a similar sugary flavor without the actual sugar such as in these 3 Ingredient Vegan Flourless Pancakes, Stuffed Peanut Butter, Jelly, and Banana Sweet Potatoes, Healthy Vanilla Chocolate Chip Banana Bread, or these Healthy Breakfast Cookies.

Cantaloupe

This lovely melon doesn’t really get a day to shine, so I’m highlighting it here! Cantaloupe is a wonderful low-fructose fruit option to add to your diet. Yet, it’s not just about the fructose when it comes to cantaloupe, but it’s also about the health benefit. Cantaloupe is rich in certain nutrients including beta-carotene, — a carotenoid antioxidant — vitamin C, folate, fiber, and potassium. This melon is also rich in water, which means it’s a great way to add a bit of hydration to your day along with proper consumption of water.

Try using cantaloupe as a substitute in some of your favorite sugary recipes such as this 2 Ingredient Cantaloupe Ice Cream or try something completely unique such as this Cantaloupe Date Oatmeal with Mint-Melon Relish.

Strawberries

Yes! I was so excited to learn that strawberries — along with many other varieties of berries — are lower on the fructose spectrum. This makes sense given the fact that berries have been shown to not affect your blood sugar as drastically as other fruit options. What else can strawberries provide to your daily nutrient intake? Turns out these delightful little berries contain a tidbit of protein, fat, and fiber! Keep in mind, it’s not enough to make them your sole source for these nutrients. When it comes to strawberries, focus on vitamins and minerals. They are rich in vitamin C, manganese, folate, and potassium and are loaded with antioxidants including pelargonidin, ellagic acid, ellagitannins, and procyanidins. On top of that, strawberries are absolutely essential for fresh, sweet treats that don’t need any extra sugar!

With that said, get creative with your strawberry cooking! Here are a few unique recipes to get you started: Dessert Chips and Strawberry Salsa, Healthy Strawberry and Chocolate Yogurt Bark, or this Strawberry Lime Kombucha Smash.

Cranberries

It’s another berry, but one that is truly understated in the health world.

Cranberries are most well-known for their protective qualities when it comes to lowering the risk of urinary tract infections, but these little berries have way more to offer. Some consider them a superfood due “to their high nutrient and antioxidant content.” They’ve been linked to the “prevention of certain types of cancer, improved immune function, and decreased blood pressure,” as well as improved oral health and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

When choosing your cranberry intake, be wary of juice as it can be loaded with added sugars! Instead think about including cranberry as a natural sweetener in some classic recipes such as these Raw Cranberry Coconut Energy Bars, this Cran-Pomegranate Kombucha Mocktail, or this Banana Oat Cranberry Bread.

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Learn How to Cook Plant-Based Meals at Home!

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