02 May, 2011

Fructose free

Food intolerance, or malabsorption, is the scourge of the food lover. In the case of fructose malabsorption (FM), it's a surprisingly sneaky curse. Fructose is a naturally occuring sugar, present in some of the most everyday, innocuous foods that make up fave snacks and meals - who would ever suspect apples and carrots as capable of inflicting digestive problems, tiredness, bad moods?

Conversely, it's also the primary ingredient of one of our most heinous manufactured products - high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), an ingredient variously responsible for the destruction of swathes of variegated farming land (all turned over to monoculture corn production), the homogenisation of groceries (some estimates say about 90% of products in an American supermarket required HFCS at some point in their production), and obesity, since all that fructose in packaged foods is more than our bodies know what to do with. Fructose is processed by the liver, rather than being taken on by muscles to make energy, and what we can't use goes straight to triglycerides, ie fat.

In my neck of the woods, avoiding HFCS isn't that hard. But the list of naturally occurring sources of fructose reads pretty much like my shopping list: garlic, onion, apples, tomato paste, honey, zucchini, artichokes, quince. Some foods are more affecting than others, and for products on the definite no-go list everyone's tolerance is different.

So there's a lot of experimenting going on at the moment. I admit I'm not a dedicated intolerant. Some days I'm content to merely verbalise that I know what I'm eating is high in fructose - the acknowledgement somehow substituting for the avoidance. Last night, for example, I cooked up the first minestrone of the season, replete with a bobbing ham hock. I loaded it with celery - an allowed vegetable - and went easy on the carrot. I didn't think to cut back on mushrooms though (cut into chunks, they're one of my favourite parts), and it wasn't until I was eating it that it occurred to me it of course contained a tin of tomatoes...and pasta (wheat contains fructose).

Today for lunch, however, I think I nailed something acceptable. That Jess Ho mentioned farro, which reminded me of a big tub of pearl barley in my pantry. I'd used some recently in a braise to accompany lamb shanks, something I'd copied from a delicious lunch at De Bortoli's Locale restaurant. I cooked a handful of grain gently in a puddle of stock for about half an hour, then fried up some spinach, with a few pine nuts, and drizzled on lemon olive oil. On top I perched a poached egg.
It was pretty good - could have used some more pep with the spinach, but it was filling, tasty, healthy and fructose free. Here's to more of that.


  1. I have a fructan intolerance - not yet tried farro but keen to find more recipes that use it. I eat a lot more rice and barley these days. Wheat is the big no no for me. I like your concept of not being a dedicated intolerant - I think I have a few days like that myself.

  2. It's tough when wheat's a no no. You really have to re-educate yourself away from sandwiches and wheaty snacks, particularly when you're out. Good luck on the farro hunt.

  3. Umm...sorry to break it to you but farro is a species of wheat (just like spelt).

  4. The wheats are particularly fraught! I went out and bought spelt bread, thinking it was better on all counts, but it's way higher in fructose than wheat. I think barley's OK, though as I mentioned in Fructose Free II I haven't come across definitive references either way.

  5. Hi -to all you fructose intolerant folks. I have come across research that linked fructose and gluten intolerance as often occurring together. So if you currently are treating yourself for one of these but aren't getting better -chances are you may have the other.