We've all had a weak moment, an intense craving for junk food—candy, french fries, you name it—that seems to come out of nowhere. But it may not be a stressful day at work or fight with your spouse that's to blame. Research suggests you might want to look at a new culprit: your fruit salad.
Or, to be more precise, fructose, the naturally occurring sugar in fruit that's often added to sweeten processed foods. A new sudy says it could actually cause you to seek out high-calorie, unhealthy foods, according to TIME.
Though the study was small—only 24 volunteers participated—the results are making waves.
Study participants were given one of two different cherry-flavored drinks: one sweetened with fructose, and the other with glucose. After guzzling the liquid, the volunteers could choose a delayed reward of money, or a high-calorie food they could eat right away.
After drinking the fructose-sweetened juice, participants were more likely to want food immediately. In other words, once fructose came into the equation, participants craved unhealthy, junk food more often.
The key point of this study hinges on the difference between the two types of sugar—glucose and fructose—and how the body breaks them down.
When the body breaks down carbohydrates, you get glucose. Heard of blood sugar? That's glucose, too. Your body uses this type of sugar for immediate energy, or stores it to use later on.
Fructose is the type of sugar found naturally in fruits and vegetables. It's also also added to sugary juices, sodas, and sweets, where, at about 1.2 times sweeter than table sugar, a little goes a long way.
Sucrose, what we know as table sugar, is a combination of glucose and fructose.
There's another big difference between these two sugars: insulin. As glucose enters your bloodstream, your body releases insulin to help your cells store energy. Insulin also sends a signal to your brain to tell it that you've eaten, and you're full.
Fructose, on the other hand, doesn't trigger the release of insulin, so the brain may continue to send hunger signals to the body.
Of course, the authors of the study aren't saying that you should give up fresh fruit to kick your cravings for cheeseburgers and fries.
“Don’t stop eating fruit," Dr. Kathleen A. Page of the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California told The New York Times. "It has a relatively low amount of sugar compared with processed foods and soft drinks—maybe 5 grams in an orange, compared with 25 grams in a 12-ounce can of soda."
Instead, try cutting out soda and other sugary drinks, candy, desserts, and any foods with added sweeteners. If you really can't ignore your sweet tooth, try an alternative sweetener like stevia, or agave nectar.
Photo credit: John Hawkins via Flickr