food issues

Reader J.S. asks:

The enemy. Image: Carlos Porto / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’m fructose intolerant. It’s like gluten or lactose intolerance, in that eating something with fructose in it (like anything made with high fructose corn syrup or, say, an apple) won’t kill me; it just makes me really uncomfortable and sick. My problem is that it’s such a rare and weird-sounding issue to have, I don’t know how to break it to friends or relatives when they’re making food or asking me to dinner. I don’t want to sound like the needy, whiny, picky, weird person at dinner parties, but what can I do to ensure my own comfort and ability to eat without freaking people out?

Dear J.S.:

While fructose intolerance may be a somewhat new malady on the market, it is not one without plenty of precedent and good company. (If you can call any sort of food intolerance “good” in any sense.) Celiac disease (that’s gluten-intolerance, more or less, for you playing along at home) and lactose intolerance have certainly become more accepted and recognized in the food world over the past few years. Nowadays  restaurants have entire gluten-free menus, and there’s a “may contain milk byproducts” warning label on many foods. And let’s not forget the rise of vegetarians and vegans, plus those who are deathly allergic to peanuts — all have inspired their own walls in grocery stores and sections in airplanes.

What I mean here is: you’re not alone. And you should keep that in mind.

Speaking up about something that disturbs you is important, even if it may cause discomfort in those around you. Although the issue of when to speak up is fuzzy when that discomfort is intangible or emotional, when it’s physical discomfort, you have a right, nay, an obligation even, to speak up about it. Your friends like you. They want you to be comfortable. And they’ll probably be somewhat fascinated by your dietary restrictions.

So if a friend invites you to dinner at their place and asks what you’d like to eat, let them know you have trouble with fruit and fructose. You can do this tactfully without making them feel evil. Tell them that tomatoes and apples give you trouble, but you’re fully capable of eating around the grapes or the bananas if need be. Make sure to give them a good list of what you can eat in the category at hand — table sugar, sucrose, berries, chocolate, etc.

You’re right to be a bit hesitant about the issue when you’re out in a big group at a dinner somewhere. If you’re out with strangers, it may be inappropriate to bring up your dietary restrictions, especially in a place where you can find food that suits your needs without having to make a big stink about it. Besides, dealing with your dietary constraints should be the waiter’s problem for the evening, not your friends’.

But by all means, let your good friends and family members know your concerns. They need to know, and you shouldn’t feel bad letting them know. It’s okay to be a bit needy sometimes. You’re not proselytizing or trying to convert them to fructose intolerance; you’re simply expressing a physical need. If you were diabetic or allergic to peanuts, you would do this without a second thought. Just because it’s not life threatening, it doesn’t mean you should just ignore it to make other people feel comfortable.

3 Responses to “food issues”

  1. 1 Jayem
    April 30, 2010 at 10:07 am

    J.S. I have almost this exact same problem, only mine is more of a HIGH fructose corn syrup thing. I try to just be aware of what contains it and try to avoid those things if I am in public. If you go to a lot of friends’ houses for dinners and such, maybe it would be a good idea to bring something with you that you know you can eat, or eat a bit before hand.

  2. 2 Julia
    April 30, 2010 at 10:28 am

    I have to respectfully disagree about eating beforehand. When I invite a friend to dinner, I would MUCH rather know they have a food problem and be able to work around it than spend all day cooking only to have them show up and not eat what I’ve prepared. Friends like to take care of friends, and I’d prefer if my friend would tell me what’s going on and help me make food decisions she can have. If I prepared a meal a friend couldn’t eat, I would feel horrible.

  3. 3 J. S.
    April 30, 2010 at 10:37 am

    I’m sorry, but I have to call BS on the HFCS thing. Believe me, I’ve done my research.

    There are three basic kinds of sugar: glucose, fructose, and lactose. Our bodies convert all sugars to glucose, which is why we are concerned with blood glucose levels. This gives glucose a bad rap, but it shouldn’t. It is the easiest to digest. That’s why people have lactose and fructose malabsorptions. They are harder for us to digest and convert.

    Sucrose, that is white table sugar, is 50% glucose bonded with 50% fructose. It is tolerable for most people to digest because the glucose bonded to the fructose makes it easier. Cane syrup is basically sucrose.

    Brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, and most fruits are primarily fructose = hard to digest.

    corn syrup, dextrose, brown rice syrup are mostly glucose = easier to digest. Maltodextrine, by the way, digests slowly so you won’t get sugar spikes from it. I love it.

    Notice, Corn syrup is GLUCOSE = natural and good. High Fructose Corn Syrup has fructose added to it. Why? Because fructose is sweeter than glucose, so you get a sweeter product for less money. There are two types of HFCS: 40% glucose 60% fructose and 60% glucose 40% fructose. Clearly, one would be easier to digest than the other. BUT, companies don’t tell you which is in their product, only that fructose has been added (in europe they call it glucose-fructose syrup rather than HFCS, we stick w/ HFCS in the states because it sounds more natural).

    Now, my point. Unless you have a corn allergy, HFCS will not bother you by itself. You either have a Fructose malabsorption (meaning fruit, honey, juices, etc. would bother you), or you have a corn allergy, meaning you shouldn’t have any corn or any corn syrup.

    Of course, I’m not a doctor, so maybe I’m wrong. But that’s what my research has led me to believe.

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