This blog also appears in the online version of
The Herts and Essex Observer and The Harlow Star.
Fructose : Friend or Foe?
This week, my blog concentrates on the health effects of fructose and its influence on weight gain and maintenance.
Fructose : What Is It?
Fructose is a simple sugar (carbohydrate) which occurs naturally in fruit and, in general to a lesser extent, in vegetables. Its sweet taste entices our taste buds and makes fruit consumption attractive to both adults and children alike. However, emerging science suggests that fructose is not as good for us as we've been lead to believe, and that over consumption can result in weight gain, insulin resistance, diabetes, fatty liver and obesity (1).
Most of the sugars (carbohydrates) we eat are made up of glucose chains. When carbohydrates are digested, these chains are broken down into single glucose units which are used to produce energy within our body cells. Fructose, on the other hand, is not taken up by our body cells for energy, but is broken down in the liver where it is turned into fat which is either laid down in the liver or in fat cells, inducing weight gain and/or fatty liver when excessive amounts are eaten. Because fructose overrides the hormone (leptin) responsible for telling us we are full, there is a tendency to overeat high fructose-containing foods, which perpetuates the weight gain link. And to make matters worse, high consumption of fructose is now being implicated in loss of insulin sensitivity, the determining factor in diabetes onset which again is associated with weight gain, especially around the tummy area.
Excavation of the human remains of our prehistoric ancestors has revealed that our early predecessors ate fruit seasonally when ripe, which in Northern Europe occurred in the autumn months. It was used as a means of piling on the pounds to fatten up before the onset of winter when food was traditionally scarce.
Nowadays, fruit is available all year round and is often eaten preferentially to vegetables in order to fulfil the government’s recommended guidelines of 5 fruit and vegetables a day. In addition to fructose in fruit and vegetables, the widespread utilisation of glucose-fructose syrup by the food industry as a cheap sweetening agent in a multitude of products from jams, baked products and soft drinks to breakfast cereals, yoghurts and sweets has increased our exposure to fructose to excessive and unhealthy levels (2).
Fructose consumption, especially in the form of glucose-fructose syrup, is spiraling out of control and we need to get a handle on it to prevent us from falling foul of its fattening effects.
A Few Simple Health Tips
• Eat fructose as nature intended – in its natural form in whole fruit and vegetables and benefit from the vitamins, minerals, fibre, phytonutrients and enzymes which are provided in this form. The fibre, in particular, slows down the metabolism of fructose and mitigates its potentially fattening effects
• Steer clear of fruit juice since this provides a concentrated dose of fructose without the benefit of the fibre to slow down its metabolism
• Of the government’s recommended 5 fruit and vegetables a day, concentrate the majority on vegetables, reserving a maximum of 2 for fruit.
• And most importantly – check food labels and avoid products with glucose-fructose syrup – this is a recipe for weight gain and other health complications.
Fruit is fab in moderation, but glucose-fructose syrup fuels fat formation and heralds health hazards!
Juliet Schaffer, Nutritionist, Evolve Nutrition