Is Fructose a Nutritional Baddie?

Chemical structure of fructose

Let’s end the blame game once and for all. Fructose is not the dietary villain that it’s often portrayed to be. And, no, it’s most certainly not toxic.

Here’s the big picture: fructose is a sugar, which is similar to glucose in its biochemical structure. Both fructose and glucose essentially have the same chemical structure; it’s just that some of their hydrogen, carbon and oxygen atoms are arranged slightly differently. Yet no one seems to be pointing a finger at glucose and calling it the root of all dietary evil.

Honey, apples, pears, watermelon, asparagus, garlic and onions all naturally contain fructose. Much of this much-maligned sugar consumed in the diet is derived from sucrose (a double sugar comprising one glucose and one fructose molecule). Discretionary foods such as sweet biscuits, cakes, chocolate, lollies, fruit drinks, sport drinks and soft drinks contain large amounts of fructose, in the form of added sucrose.

Fructose has been blamed for the high rates of obesity, Type 2 Diabetes and other metabolic disorders afflicting our nation. It has been unfairly labelled a scapegoat. It’s hard to believe that a clove of garlic or an asparagus spear could possibly cause so much destruction.

Contrary to popular belief, not all fructose is converted to fat by the liver. The fructose-centric view is that it is taken up by the liver, where it is converted to triglycerides, thereby causing nasties like fatty liver and insulin resistance. However, the majority of fructose is converted to glucose, which is then used by the muscular system and the brain as an energy source. Remember that glucose is the body’s preferred fuel source.

Of course, there is definitely merit in reducing our overall sugar intake, and that includes all sugars, including fructose. Switching from honey to a non-fructose-based sugar source like rice malt syrup, as suggested by some so-called ‘experts’, is daft. Their energy values are almost identical. Perhaps you could reduce your intake of honey and other sugary syrups altogether in order to reduce your overall energy intake. Now, that’s a thought.    

It is true that fructose can be malabsorbed in some people with digestive issues. However, those with an intolerance only need to reduce their fructose intake to minimise their tummy symptoms. It is important to note that the total exclusion of fructose in those people is not often warranted. And, there’s certainly no risk of it causing any structural damage in those people.

So, should you forego your morning apple, exclude watermelon from your fruit salad or even refrain from adding garlic to your meals? No! Although, you could hold back on the garlic if Count Dracula is coming around for dinner. He’d be eternally grateful. 

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