Sucrose (Sugar) in Pellets v. in Fruits

July 16, 2011 § 2 Comments

In light of my labeling sucrose as a red (unhealthy / undesirable) ingredient in the Pellet Project, I received an excellent question the other day: doesn’t sucrose naturally occur in most fruits that we eat and feed our parrots?  Being the smart aleck that I am, I replied, of course not; sucrose is table sugar whereas fructose is fruit sugar.  Being the dumb … aleck that I am, I was, of course, wrong!  Well, technically table sugar is the common name for sucrose, but that does not mean that it does not naturally occur in fruits.  Actually, some of the healthiest fruits that we feed our parrots– mangoes, for example– are extremely high in sucrose.  So does that mean that it is good for our parrots?

I had to call in help to answer this one and consulted a friend who is a nutrition scientist to get a professional opinion because, alas, google was failing me.  In layman’s terms, as I understand it, the difference between the sucrose found in fruit v. the sucrose found in pellets or any food with added sucrose is actually how the sucrose is metabolized. 

Sucrose added to a pellet or food will be broken down by enzymes in the body relatively quickly.  In the large intestine, sucrose will be broken down into glucose and fructose, and released into the bloodstream. (The rapidity of it is often what causes spikes in blood sugar for people: you need insulin to accept it into your muscle or fat cells and use it as energy.) The broken down sucrose can either be converted into energy or be stored as fat. More often than not, when it is absorbed into the bloodstream so rapidly, it is stored as fat, especially when other sources of energy are available (such as the other carbohydrate components of a pellet… wheat, corn, soy, etc.). This is where elevated triglycerides come into play.

Sucrose in fruits, however, doesn’t come in the form of just pure sucrose– fruit contains fiber which the digestive system can’t break down, so it can really slow down the metabolization of sucrose, and the rate at which it will enter the bloodstream. So, the risk of a spike in blood sugar is less likely (although individuals with diabetes or other conditions should obviously be careful and consult a professional about diet), and fruit sucrose is less likely to be converted into triglycerides or contribute to other problems associated with added sucrose in foods.

It’s not that fruit sucrose is good for you, but that it is a safer or maybe healthier way to consume sucrose because it slows down the digestion, plus the fiber and other vitamin/mineral content of fruit has its own beneficial properties. In a pellet, the added sucrose really serves no purpose in terms of health benefits and is only added for taste, but can cause additional problems. In general, added sucrose to any food is not the healthiest for a body, parrot or person.

So, there you have it: despite the sucrose in fruits, sucrose is still something we don’t want added to pellets, or any sugar in general really, since we now know that if we are giving them healthy servings of fresh fruits and veggies daily, they are likely getting their fair share of sweetness as is.

Thanks to my friend for raising this question and reminding me that there is always more to read and to learn, and thanks to my nutrition scientist friend for her great explanation!

I don’t have much else for today so I will leave you with a cute photo of Charles, enjoying his Oliver’s Garden “Soapbox” platform perch!

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