That sugar is unhealthy and makes too much candy fattening, we have all slowly understood. But now even the supposedly healthy fruit is getting into trouble: The fruits are only nice and sweet thanks to the fructose they contain, also known as fructose. In the meantime, it is also often used in the form of “high fructose corn syrup” or “glucose-fructoce syrup” as a sweetener for finished products. That’s not so bad, you think?
Unfortunately it is, because fructose is not a bit healthier than household sugar.
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Dr. med. Stefan Kabisch, study physician at the German Institute of Nutrition Research Potsdam-Rehbrücke and the Charité Berlin, has answered us why this is so and what consequences too high a fruit sugar consumption can have.
What is fructose?
Fructose is better known to most people than fruit sugar. As the name suggests, it is a form of sugar and thus belongs to the group of carbohydrates. “Fructose is – like glucose – a simple sugar from which more complex sugars and other carbohydrates can be assembled,” explains Dr. Kabisch.
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“Fructose, together with glucose, is a component of sucrose (household sugar), but also of other energy sources in our food. Fructose contains 4 calories per gram like dextrose or sucrose and has a similar sweetening power”.
And this sweetness can be our undoing.
What does fructose do in the body?
“Unlike glucose, fructose is processed exclusively in the liver, where it is preferentially converted into fat under certain conditions,” says the nutritional researcher. “For the absorption of fructose from the blood, no insulin is necessary – this is also different from glucose. This insulin output signals a feeling of satiety to your body. With fructose, however, it does not occur. The craving for something edible is not satisfied and you continue to eat.
Grapes are so sweet for a reason: they contain a lot of fructose, which is why it is so hard to stop snacking © Vladeep / Shutterstock.com
How healthy is fruit sugar really?
Is fructose healthy or unhealthy? That is the big question. There are currently a whole series of studies that deal with this question. But the results are not quite clear. “Targeted studies on the effect of fructose in human test persons who are supposed to consciously ingest or avoid fructose provide a somewhat ambiguous picture. The preferential metabolism of fructose in the liver may indeed be a problem.
The lack of insulin secretion, which normally also represents a hormonal saturation signal and also influences the fat metabolism, is also a potential cause of health consequences,” said the expert.
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“As a guide, the World Health Organization (WHO ) not to consume more than 25 grams of sugar – regardless of the type of sugar,” says Dr. Kabisch. “In reality, however, we average 100 grams.”
25 grams of sugar is what WHO eat every day. On average, however, everyone can eat around 100 grams © Anastasiia Fedorova / Shutterstock.com
“It is impossible to draw a line that is clearly harmless. Everyone should try to avoid artificially sweetened foods in particular. Vegetables should be given preference over fruit,” advises the nutrition researcher. Although you don’t have to – and shouldn’t – completely remove fruit from your diet, you should consume it consciously and only in moderation.
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Can too much fructose be harmful?
The main problem with many controversial ingredients is their excessive consumption. This also applies to fructose. In too large quantities, an increased consumption of fruit sugar can have negative effects on your health. “Such consequences could mean an increase in body fat, i.e. also weight gain or even obesity, as well as fatty liver, and thus typical late effects such as heart attack, stroke, premature death.
Observational studies in humans have also provided evidence of a link between gout and high blood pressure,” says Dr. Kabisch.
“However, a clear cause-and-effect relationship between high fructose intake and specific diseases has not been proven,” the expert clarifies. “Particularly when no weight gain occurs, it is hardly possible to prove health disorders specifically attributable to fructose”.
Are there different types of fructose?
A question that often arises in the debate on fructose. After all, fructose is not only found in fruit, but is also often advertised as a “sweetness from fresh fruit” on all kinds of other products. “Fructose is always fructose, but the names of sugar additives with sometimes differing fructose content differ,” says Dr. Kabisch. “Sucrose is a linked disaccharide consisting of glucose and fructose. Isoglucose means the same thing only without the link, i.e. a mixture of both single sugars.
HFCS (high fructose corn syrup or corn syrup) is also a sugar mixture, but has a fructose content of over 50 percent.
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A large number of names, which therefore always mean the same thing. That is why it is worth taking a very close look, especially at finished products. Often these unknown names are just (fruit) sugar. And unfortunately this is no better than other sugar additives.
Which foods contain much/less fructose?
Fruit sugar is found mainly in fruit and, accordingly, in fruit juices. And they have it in them: by drinking them, you consume much more fructose in a shorter time than by eating fresh fruit. So it doesn’t matter whether the juice is freshly pressed or bought – the effect is the same.
With a glass of juice you can transport a large amount of fructose into your gastrointestinal tract © VGstockstudio / Shutterstock.com
Your digestive tract is completely overstrained with too much fructose, which can lead to flatulence and cramps. The missing fibres in the juice, which would otherwise support the digestion, do the rest. Dried fruit and honey also have an extremely high fructose content.
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Vegetables also contain fruit sugar. In contrast to fruit, however, the amount is significantly lower. Fish, meat, eggs and milk are free of fructose. In cereal products and potatoes you will also find only very small amounts.
In addition, the industry takes advantage of the supposedly healthy fruit sugar by packaging it in the form of glucose-fructose syrup & Co. in all kinds of finished products. By this we mean not only fruit yoghurt, muesli mixes with fruit or fruit ice cream, but also soft drinks, baked goods or ketchup. A little bit of “natural sweetness” doesn’t scare off and polishes up the image a bit. A trick we are happy to fall for. There’s nothing healthy about it anymore – and the effect is devastating.
Anyone wishing to reduce their fruit sugar consumption should therefore choose above all low-fructose and generally low-sugar varieties. The following tables give you a good overview of which foods are particularly low in fructose:
Tables with the fructose content* of foodstuffs
1. fructose in fruit
2. low fructose vegetables
3. drinks as fruit sugar bombs
4. sweets, dairy products and hidden sources of fructose
*Source: The great Wahrburg / Egert calorie and nutrition table, edition 2016/17, TRIAS
How does a fructose intolerance manifest itself?
Similar to milk sugar, the so-called lactose, there are also people who cannot tolerate fruit sugar. Such a fructose intolerance manifests itself for example by flatulence, nausea, stomach ache, feeling of fullness or even headaches. If you regularly suffer from such complaints after eating foods containing fructose, you should have it tested by a doctor. A fructose intolerance can easily be diagnosed by a breath test.
Do you suffer from fructose intolerance?
But even if you suffer from intolerance, there are many tips that can help you eat healthy and balanced food. In addition to medication, a change of diet is particularly helpful, in which both hidden and obvious sources of fructose are avoided or reduced.
How can you cover your vitamin requirements despite a low-fructose diet?
A low-fructose diet should also be one thing above all: healthy and balanced. Just because you limit your fruit sugar consumption does not mean you have to give up vitamins and important nutrients.
If you eat a low-fructose diet, you don’t have to go without fruit altogether © Foxys-Forest-Manufacture / Shutterstock.com
First of all, fruit juices and finished products with fructose have to go. Honey should only be consumed sparingly. With fruit, you should focus on low-fructose varieties and, especially with vegetables, you should add a lot. Raw food is a healthy, quick snack for in-between meals. Thanks to its low fructose content, it is more filling than some fruits and at the same time slows down hunger pangs.
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Conclusion: Fructose is (unfortunately) also only sugar
Does this mean you should eat less fruit? No, because as is often the case with fructose, the quantity is crucial. Fruit and vegetables should continue to be on the daily menu to supply your body with essential vitamins and nutrients. Nevertheless, you should keep an eye on the quantity, especially with fruit sugar-rich varieties. You should also eat an apple instead of drinking apple juice.
And what’s even more important: Always take a look at the list of ingredients for ready-made products, ice cream, baked goods, etc. and reveal hidden fructose additives – you can safely do without them. And for dessert, fresh fruit is always better than cake, ice cream or chocolate.