Fructose, the Evil Health Food (Sweeteners part 3)

When I was a child fructose was sold as a health food.  It was promoted as vastly superior to sucrose (which was often referred to as “white death” by the health food fadists). Fructose sounds like a wonderful substance. Its very name comes from the Latin for fruit – Fruktus (which itself comes from the root Fruor – to enjoy). It’s got to be good for you.

English: D-Fructose

Fructose is part of our natural evolutionary diet. Fructose is second only to glucose in terms of quantities of sugars consumed. It is found in foods both as a monosaccharide (alone) and as joined with glucose as the disaccharide sucrose. Most fruits contain all three sugars glucose, fructose, and sucrose (glucose and fructose bonded together) in various proportions.

Fructose has two properties which were thought to give it superiority:

  •  It is much sweeter (1.7x) than sucrose, so less is needed.
  •  It is not metabolized like glucose, and it does not utilize insulin in its metabolism and was therefore erroneously believed to not create insulin resistance or to metabolic syndrome (see previous blog).

But is it really superior to other sugars?

Since the availability of table sugar which is composed of half fructose the average consumption of fructose has skyrocketed. Now fructose is also readily synthesized from starch to make products such as high fructose corn syrup. And now with the promotion of healthy sounding products such as agave syrup, Fructose the Evil Health Food has returned.

But not so fast! If it is not metabolized like glucose what does the body do with it. Five major problems arise from excess fructose consumption.

  1.  Bacteria and yeasts can readily use it as a food source. Just like glucose, fructose contributes to dental caries, and chronic Candidiasis.
  2. Although it is indeed sweeter, it does not tend to produce the hormone (leptin) that gives us a feeling of satisfaction and fullness. So we tend to eat more of it.
  3. English: Liver steatosis (fatty liver disease)...
    Fatty Liver on CT scan

    Fatty Liver on CT scanOnce it is partially metabolized, like glucose, it can be used as energy or converted into fat. The problem is that its metabolism is extremely stressful to the liver. These metabolic issues of fructose can result in generalized inflammation, fatty liver, increased blood fats, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome (see previous article). With frequent exposure and high concentrations, fructose acts more like a liver poison than a food.Fructose is seven times more reactive than glucose. It can react with our tissues and form something called A.G.E.s (advanced glycolization endproducts). These reactions permanently damage tissue. You can think of age spots throughout your body including the vital organs such as our brain and heart. A.G.E.s have been associated with Alzheimer’s and heart disease. Essentially, excessive fructose causes premature aging.

  4. The biggest problem is related to how humans metabolize fructose. Fructose is entirely metabolized in the liver.
  5. Some people do not absorb fructose easily from the small intestine. This malabsorption can cause indigestion, bloating, and gas as the intestinal bacteria have a feast.

Sweeteners high in fructose are often hyped for their low glycemic index. This is really a type of false advertising. Glycemic index is a reference for how fast glucose is absorbed into the blood stream after ingesting a particular food. If a substance doesn’t have any glucose of course it has a low glycemic index. Yes, it is great that fructose isn’t glucose. But it is terrible that is fructose.

Basically, when it comes to a contest of which is better for you fructose or glucose it a matter of the lesser of two evils. Both are bad in excess, but fructose clearly causes the most permanent damage.

Fruit obviously can be healthful. Most of the nutritive (caloric) sweeteners (such as honey, sugar, HFCS, agave syrup, maple syrup, etc.) also contain both glucose and fructose. Are any of these better than another? In the next article I will discuss some of the foods containing glucose, fructose and sucrose to help you decide how much is safe and which of these foods have other benefits to outweigh the harm.

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  1. Pingback: Glucose - The Essence of Sweetness (Sweeteners part 2)

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