Fructose: Friend Or Foe?

In the last 20 years there has been a change in the kind of sugar food manufacturers use to sweeten their products. In the past, sucrose was king. Today, fructose, in the form of high fructose syrup (HFS), is much more common. This is touted as good news for people with diabetes, but is it?

How much do you know about this stuff that you consume every day? HFS is used in everything from canned goods to dairy products. Fructose also occurs naturally in many fruits and vegetables. In fact, the average person gets 40%-60% of their daily fructose intake from produce alone. This works out to about 37 grams of fructose per day, or roughly eight percent of the daily total. When chemically bound with glucose, fructose becomes the disaccharide (double-sugar) known as sucrose, or table sugar.

Some researchers argue that fructose consumption can alter the body’s response to trace minerals, which can increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Other researchers have found evidence that a high intake of fructose can result in increased blood insulin levels, causing the body to excrete chromium, which is vital to the metabolism of sugars. Chromium deficiency is rare in the United States. [Editors’ note: The research results mentioned above are highly controversial. Insulin is not necessary to metabolize fructose until it is converted into glucose by the liver-but 90% of fructose is absorbed by the liver on the first pass. Only 10% converts to glucose and re-enters the bloodstream. Accordingly, fructose is not considered to increase blood insulin].

But according to Walter Glinsmann, MD, former nutrition advisor in the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, and author of the 1986 FDA report on sugars, “There is no solid scientific research suggesting that HFS causes adverse health effects. Studies reporting such outcomes have involved abnormally high levels of fructose in a very small number of individuals, or have been conducted in rats.”

Glinsmann cautions that results must be analyzed on a case-by-case basis, and that predicting human reactions from reactions in rats is unreliable. The response of high fructose consumption in rats has yet to be observed in other animals.

The ADA has recently concluded that sugars are no more likely to raise blood glucose levels than non-sugary foods like bread, rice, and potatoes. Even though people with diabetes are considered at high risk for heart disease, the ADA says, “There is no reason to recommend that people avoid foods such as fruits and vegetables in which fructose occurs naturally or moderate consumption of fructose-sweetened foods.”

Although further research is necessary, it’s probably safe to continue eating fructose. But don’t forget, moderation and home glucose testing are vitally important.

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