Fructose: Is it good or bad for you?

Fructose: Is it good or bad for you?

Carbohydrates are essential macronutrients required by the body to provide energy, store energy, build macromolecules, spare protein and assist in lipid metabolism. They are primarily classified into four types according to how many sugar units are combined in their molecule - monosaccharides, disaccharides, oligosaccharides and polysaccharides. 

The table below highlights carbohydrates classification:

Class

Sugar Units

Examples

Monosaccharides

1

Glucose, Fructose, Galactose

Disaccharides

2

Sucrose, Lactose, Maltose

Oligosaccharides

3-9

Raffinose, Stachyose

Polysaccharides

More than 10

Glycogen, Cellulose, Starch, Inulin, Chitin

 

Introduction to Fructose

Fructose is a simple ketonic monosaccharide. It is also commonly known as “fruit sugar” because it is a naturally occurring sugar found in fruits and vegetables. Some of the common sources include apples, dates, pears, figs, root vegetables, bell pepper, honey, sugar beets and sugar cane. Fructose can be a natural sugar or an added sugar depending on its source. When consumed directly from whole plant fruits it is considered a natural sugar, whereas when consumed from packaged foods and beverages it is considered an added sugar. Commercially, fructose-containing sugar is derived from corn, sugar cane and sugar beets and produced in a crystalline form for use as an ingredient in packaged foods and beverages. 

Monosaccharides often bond together to form disaccharides. The most common example of this is sucrose or “table sugar”. From the above table, we can see that sucrose is a disaccharide and it is formed from two monosaccharides, fructose and glucose. 

Apart from being an important component of your table sugar, fructose has a number of applications in the food and beverage industries including,

  • Sweetener - The sweetness of fructose is 150-200% greater than that of sucrose. 
  • Flavour enhancer - The sweetness perception of fructose peaks and falls faster than glucose and sucrose, “unmasking” flavours of fruit and spice.
  • Humectant - Humectant is a substance used to help retain moisture. Fructose binds and retains moisture so well that it can replace sorbitol and glycerin in foods, thereby improving taste.
  • Freezing-point depression - Fructose maintains the integrity of frozen fruit by controlling water and preventing damaging ice crystal formation that can destroy fragile fruit tissue.

Is Fructose Good or Bad?

When one hears fructose the alarms in their heads go off. It is because their concerns lie around two factors, which are

  • The epidemic of obesity
  • Risks of cardiovascular diseases

The tug of war between fructose consumption and health risks has been ongoing. The answer of whether fructose is good or bad for you totally depends on one major factor - the quantity consumed. A moderate fructose consumption of less than 50g per day has no detrimental effect on lipid and glucose control and consumption of less than 100g per day does not influence body weight. 

They say, an apple a day keeps the doctor away. While it definitely does have a few essential nutrients required by the body, it is not enough to keep you healthy to keep the doctor away. However, it is a relatively high source of fructose. Approximately, a medium-sized apple contains 11 grams of fructose, whereas a small apple contains 9 grams of fructose and a large apple contains 13 grams. While eating one apple may not be a problem, eating several apples and crossing the threshold we mentioned above can cause a sudden spike in blood sugar levels, but given the fiber present in apples, it is hard to eat so much. Looks like nature has its own way to ensure we don’t eat too much fructose!

In a research study stated in Reuters, researchers examined data from 155 studies, including 5000 people with and without diabetes, that assessed the effect of fructose derived from different food sources on blood glucose levels. While the analysis did not find consistent effects on risk for diabetes, Dr Mark Herman of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina stated that the result showed “adverse effects of added sugars in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages”. In fact, the study authors noted that it is quite likely that fruits and other foods with naturally occurring fructose might help improve blood sugar levels as they are high in fibre, which can help slow down the release of sugars in the bloodstream.

Fructose does not affect insulin in people with diabetes and is therefore considered a safe sweetener for people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. As a matter of fact, fructose stimulates insulin secretion less than glucose and glucose-containing carbohydrates do. Having said that, excessive fructose intake can trigger several metabolic disorders. While glucose can be used by every cell in the body, it is only the liver that can metabolize fructose. When people start eating a diet that has high fructose content, the liver gets overloaded and starts converting the fructose into fats. This leads to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Besides, increased fructose consumption can also cause dyslipidemia - a condition where there is abnormally elevated cholesterol or fats (lipid) in the blood - and insulin resistance. However, the role of a controlled fructose intake in these metabolic disorders remains debated.

Again the dose makes the poison. If you are consuming fructose as added sugar in beverages then look at the label to see how many grams are you consuming. If it is as much as an apple, approximately 10 grams, then you have nothing to worry about because less than 50g per day has no detrimental effect on lipid and glucose control and consumption of less than 100g per day does not influence the body weight.

What are the Benefits of Fructose?

One of the key benefits that fructose has is its low glycemic index. The glycemic index (GI) is a rating system, on a scale of 0 to 100, for foods containing carbohydrates that show how quickly each food affects your blood sugar (glucose) level. Simply put, it is a measure of how quickly a food causes our blood sugar levels to rise. Foods that have a higher GI convert the carbs into glucose faster than the ones with a lower GI, thereby making your blood sugar rise faster. Foods that have a GI score between 1 and 55 are considered to be low GI foods. Fructose has a glycemic index of 19, which is even lesser than the GI of certain healthy food such as bananas (62), watermelon (72), green peas (51), carrot (35) and even unsweetened orange juice (50). 

Foods with a low glycemic index have been shown to help improve weight loss and control type 2 diabetes - two of the common concerns with sugar. Choosing low GI foods can particularly help manage long-term blood glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes. In addition, studies involving populations in China and the USA have shown that women with a greater intake of food with a high GI were more at risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared with women on low GI diets. There is less evidence, however, to support this in people with Type 1 diabetes, but we know that choosing low GI foods on a day-to-day basis can help keep blood glucose levels steady after eating. Further, a 5-week study was conducted on 38 subjects that saw a replacement of usual starch with either low GI starch or high GI starch. A decline in hunger sensation was noticed among people with a low GI diet. Additionally, a low GI diet also decreased total cholesterol by 9·6 % and LDL cholesterol or “bad” cholesterol by 8·6%. 

Conclusion

To conclude, we can safely say that fructose is not the problem. The problem is the quantity of fructose you consume every day. A fructose intake that is less than 100 grams per day does not show any adverse effects on your body and your metabolism. 

A Note on Happy Ratio’s Use of Fructose

For its All-in-One All-Macro Formulations, Happy Ratio uses as much fructose as an apple a day for 2 serves, and has a GI as low as 32 to keep you energetic without spiking your blood glucose levels.

 

References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560599/ 

https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/carbohydrates-and-blood-sugar/ 

https://extension.oregonstate.edu/sites/default/files/documents/1/glycemicindex.pdf 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5872791/

https://clinical-nutrition.imedpub.com/dietary-factors-in-fasting-blood-glucose-levels-and-weight-gain-in-female-sprague-dawley-rats.php?aid=18162

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18039988/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18039989/ 

https://med.libretexts.org/Courses/American_Public_University/The_Functions_of_Carbohydrates_in_the_Body

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8213603/ 

http://fructosefacts.org/about/benefits/ 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2991323/#B2

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2991323/ 

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22723585/ 

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28878197/ 

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-diabetes-sugary-drinks-idUSKCN1NZ2GQ 

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16820733/ 

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18039989/ 

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18039988/
https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition/article/beneficial-effects-of-a-5week-lowglycaemic-index-regimen-on-weight-control-and-cardiovascular-risk-factors-in-overweight-nondiabetic-subjects/9F874F4969E6E179E040ACEB15A53BB0

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