Is Fructose Making You Fat?

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You have probably heard about Fructose – it’s a fruit sugar, right? And you may also think that fructose is ok to eat because it comes from fruit… fruit is good for us and we are supposed to eat it. ‘Fruit sugar’ sounds pretty harmless doesn’t it?  Even though we know ‘sugar’ is bad for us, when we put the word ‘fruit’ in front of it, it completely changes how we view it.  I wanted to touch on the subject of fructose as it is creeping into more and more foods and drinks as a sweetener – and by foods and drinks I mean packaged and processed foods and drinks like yoghurts, sauces, cereals, soft drinks and fruit juices. It is in these products where the problem lies, not in fresh fruit. It is very important that you look out for fructose in the foods and drinks that you are consuming as it could be making you pile on some extra kilos!

What is Fructose?

Fructose is a simple sugar which is twice as sweet as sucrose (normal table sugar). Before the development of the sugar industry, fructose was limited to a few things like fruit, honey, dates and raisins; however since the development of white table sugar our exposure to fructose has increased astronomically. A lot of people don’t realise that white table sugar is actually 50% glucose and 50% fructose. So whenever you eat anything with sugar in it, half of it will actually be fructose – many people are exposing themselves to fructose on a daily basis without even realising it! Our bodies can manage glucose, however fructose is a lot harder to process.

How does Fructose affect our bodies?

Fructose differs in several ways from glucose. Whilst Glucose stimulates insulin release from the pancreas (insulin gets sugar out of the blood stream and into the cells) – fructose does not. It cannot enter most cells in the body and only the liver and sperm cells can manage fructose. Once fructose gets into the liver, it is actually converted into triglycerides which is basically another word for fat.

So not only can fructose make you fat, but it also does three other things:

  • It prevents a hormone called leptin from being released.  Leptin is the hormone that switches off appetite.
  • It causes ghrelin to be secreted. Ghrelin is the hormone that stimulates appetite.
  • It also contributes to insulin resistance which means that your cells start to resist insulin and what this means is that your cells become tired as they cannot get their fuel (the sugar) inside.

So in a nutshell, fructose can potentially increase the amount of fat you store (especially around the abdomen), make you eat more (due to your appetite regulation mechanism not working efficiently) and make you feel fatigued as your cells don’t have any ‘energy’!

In recent years, we have seen an increasing rise in diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and various metabolic conditions including insulin resistance, and this is largely due to changes in our diet and an increased consumption of processed foods. These processed foods contain an array of additives, preservatives and sweeteners, which are very detrimental to our health and may cause long term damage to our cells and the way our bodies function. One of the biggest culprits around is a sweetener called High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). This is a cheap sweetener that many manufacturers use for soda drinks, fruit flavoured drinks, breads, cereals and condiments/ sauces.

What do researchers say about Fructose

There have been numerous studies to support the notion that fructose in our diet will have a detrimental effect on our bodies and is linked to the increasing rise of cardiovascular and metabolic disease processes. In one study carried out by Pennington Biomedical Research Centre in Louisiana*, 20 adults were given a diet that contained a minimum amount of sugar-containing beverages and sugar-sweetened foods over a 10 week trial period. Their energy intake increased to 2g of sucrose (so 1 gram of that was fructose) per kg of body weight per day. So over the 10 weeks, the group’s calorie intake had increased to 380 kcal/day which was an overall 28% increase in calories from when they started.

The results were as follows:

  • Body weight and fat mass increased by 1.6 and 1.3 kg.
  • Blood Pressure increased by 3.8/4.1 mm and this increase was a direct result of the increase in fructose consumption.
  • Their concentration of several inflammatory markers also increased (so their bodies were becoming more ‘inflamed’)

And this was only after 10 weeks with a minimum increase in fructose (and sugar) – can you imagine what years and years will do to your body!

Next time you pick up a packet of food or a can of soft drink, firstly look at the sugar content and then look at the ingredients to see if it contains any extra fructose. If it does, my advice would be not to buy it as you will not be doing your body any favours whatsoever!

* Bray, G. A. (2010) Fructose Pure White & Deadly? Fructose by any other name is a health hazard. Journal of Diabetes Sciences & Technology, Vol 4, No 4, 1003-1007.

 

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Michelle is a qualified Naturopath, Nutritionist, Reflexologist and Reiki practitioner who is passionate about living a holistic lifestyle and helping others to achieve their health goals. She is also a Jungle Body Dance Fitness Instructor, which not only keeps her fit but also helps her to inspire others to feel confident and get in shape.

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