What is Fructose?
Fructose, also known as fruit sugar, is a type of sugar known as a monosaccharide, or a “single” sugar similar to glucose. It is the sweetest tasting carbohydrate, found in many fruits and vegetables, hence the popular name “fruit sugar.” Fructose is also found in many sugary sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), honey, and agave syrup.
While not common, some people may have difficulty digesting all of the fructose they consume. This condition is known as fructose malabsorption and is mostly found in those with irritable bowel syndrome.
Fructose can become especially troublesome when consumed in the form of HFCS or other sweeteners. Diets that are high in both calories and fructose are believed to cause obesity, type II diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer.
What’s the Link Between Fructose and Obesity?
A study published by scientists at Carleton University’s Department of Neuroscience in Ottawa, Ontario has determined that there is a link between fructose and obesity. Scientists have long speculated that the consumption of fructose-based sweeteners such as HFCS can lead to a higher risk of obesity and diabetes. However, the relationship between these conditions and fructose has only just been understood.
By examining different parts of the brain, scientists were able to identify how fructose interacts with these pathways involved with hunger. Led by the study’s corresponding author, Dr. Melissa J. Chee, the team found that the consumption of fructose impaired certain metabolic processes in the brain, which can cause an individual to overeat. Chee and her colleagues found that the presence of fructose increased the amount of oxygen to the brain. They also found that this increase in oxygen promoted a “hunger-like state in the brain,” which can cause an individual to overeat.
Excessive fructose consumption, mainly fructose-based sweeteners, can be especially problematic and can lead to problems with your digestive system. This is primarily due to how the body breaks down sugars. Unlike glucose, large amounts of fructose cannot be digested by the small intestine alone. When this happens, excess fructose “spills over” into the liver, which can then cause an increase in fatty acid production. The group involved with the study suggests that this “contributes to the accumulation of fatty liver and adiposity (obesity).” The group also suggests that large consumption of fructose can lead to insulin resistance, which can be extremely dangerous for people with diabetes.
What Foods Are High in Fructose?
Since fructose is naturally occurring in both fruits and vegetables, it is often not thought of as a harmful sugar. The two other main dietary sugars are glucose and sucrose, but since fructose is the sweetest of the three, it is most commonly used to make foods taste better. Fructose itself, when found in fruits and vegetables, is not largely believed to be harmful, although more research is needed to understand its effects on the body. What scientists believe is dangerous, however, is when it appears in its free form as HFCS.
As Chee points out, since the early 1970s, HFCS has been a growing part of many people’s diets. Now, HFCS is used in both sweetened beverages and processed foods, and now comprises 40% of all artificial sweeteners. While organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend a daily added sugar intake of around 10%, recent studies have shown that fructose intake, especially in young people, averages well over 15%.
Understanding what foods are high in fructose can be a helpful way to ensure your diet remains both healthy and well-rounded. Natural fructose from fresh fruits and vegetables is good for a person’s health, while foods that are high in HFCS can be bad.
Below is a list of common foods high in fructose, both good and bad.
Foods High in “Good” Fructose
- Agave syrup
- Dried figs
- Apple juice
Foods High in “Bad” Fructose
- Soda or other artificially sweetened soft drinks
- White bread
- Canned fruits
- Breakfast cereals
- Energy drinks and sports drinks
- Jams and jellies
- Ice cream
Bottom Line on Fructose and Obesity
Fructose and obesity have long been thought to be intertwined, as most scientists have agreed that added sugars can have negative effects on a person’s health. Chee and her colleagues at Carleton University have shown that there is evidence to support that an increase in fructose consumption leads to overeating and obesity.
“We ascertain that dietary fructose can impose maladaptations within the brain to promote overfeeding, which may be exacerbated in obesity,” says Chee. “Future research, including at critical brain regions identified in this review, would be needed to [explain] the mechanisms through which fructose can promote dysfunction at the circuit or synapse level.”
So what’s the bottom line? Does fructose cause obesity? While more research needs to be done, this study would lead one to say yes, there is a link between the two. While it’s not as simple as consuming fructose and overeating, there is growing evidence to suggest there may be a relationship between fructose and obesity.
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