Modern scientific research is shining the spotlight on sugars as being the primary nutrient of concern. It has been linked to endocrine problems, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders, and even mental/psychological disorders.
Fructose is one sugar that remains in the gray zone. The fact that it’s derived from fruit-based sources means it isn’t as dangerous as refined, processed, and artificial sugars. However, fructose alone (in simple sugar form, without fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants) has the potential to be as dangerous as other forms of sugar.
The funny thing is that fructose was endorsed by diabetologists for most of the 20th century. In 1979, the American Diabetes Association recommended replacing glucose-containing sugars in the American diet with fructose and sugars like mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol. Diabetes trials in the mid-1980’s found that substituting fructose into the diet translated into long-term glycemic benefits for people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
However, in the early 2000s, experts began to question whether or not fructose—specifically fructose-derived sweeteners—were more dangerous than previously believed. In 2002, it was recommended to not use fructose sweeteners due to their effect on blood lipid levels. Another ecological analysis linked higher fructose consumption to increased obesity rates in the country. Thus, fructose and fructose sweeteners were relegated to the list of dangerous foods.
But recent research may be swinging things back in favor of fructose as an alternative to refined and glucose-containing sugars (glucose, sucrose, lactose, and maltose). Two studies in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition are pointing to the health benefits of fructose. The studies found:
- Substituting glucose for fructose can lower post-prandial blood glucose and insulin responses, yet have no negative effect on triglyceride levels.1
- Substituting glucose for fructose can improve fasting glucose and glycated hemoglobin without negatively affecting body weight, blood lipids, or fasting insulin—even in cases of people with type 2 diabetes and impaired glucose tolerance.2
More and more scientific studies are indicating that fructose has the potential to be the safest of the natural sugars. By replacing glucose and sucrose (the two most common types of sugar used in American food and drinks) with fructose, the negative effects of high sugar intake could be diminished or mitigated. Benefits could include lower fasting glucose levels, decreased post-prandial glycemic response to foods, reduced glycemic impact, and potentially a reduction in diabetes and obesity risk.
More trials are needed to determine the true safety or danger of fructose. However, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, “the current signal for net benefit means that one can have confidence that fructose is at least no worse than the glucose-containing sugars that it would replace.”
1. Evans RA, Frese M, Romero J, Cunningham JH, Mills KE. “Fructose replacement of glucose or sucrose in food or beverages lowers postprandial glucose and insulin without raising triglycerides: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” American Journal Clinical Nutrition 2017;106:506–18.
2. Evans RA, Frese M, Romero J, Cunningham JH, Mills KE. “Chronic fructose substitution for glucose or sucrose in food or beverages has little effect on fasting blood glucose, insulin, or triglycerides: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” American Journal Clinical Nutrition 2017;106:519–29.