Fructose is the scientific name for fruit sugar. Not surprisingly, Fructose naturally occurs in foods such as honey, root vegetables (think of sweet carrots and tasty beets) and fruit.
Where else does fructose show up in our food supply? Ever heard of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)? I’m guessing the answer is “yes’, but as a quick review, HFCS is a mix of glucose (another type of sugar) and fructose. In this form, fructose isn’t exactly considered a health food. In fact, there are concerns that HFCS can increase the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, the most common cause of chronic liver disease.
Not only that, the more high fructose corn syrup you eat (or drink, for that matter), the greater the chance that you’ll be moving your “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides (both risk factors for heart disease) in the wrong direction.
Next up is the relationship between high fructose corn syrup and a blood metabolite called uric acid (UA). The more HFCS, the more uric acid in the blood. And that may be a problem because UA has been found to be a risk factor for metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Not exactly a golden triad! UA may also be a risk factor for kidney disease, type II diabetes, and cognitive decline. High-fructose corn syrup, often found in soda and other sweetened drinks, can also trigger an unhealthy inflammatory process in the body. Sheesh, now it’s just getting ugly!
Why aren’t humans able to process fructose in a healthy way? One theory is that our intake of that sugar has increased so much since our days as hunter-gatherers, that our bodies simply aren’t adapted to that amount of fruit sugar. As you can imagine, back in those days our fructose was obtained by eating intact food, complete with fiber and other healthy components found in whole fruit and vegetables. In a can of soda, there are not many other micro or macronutrients to “dilute” the fructose, and the amount of sugar per can is way more than we were “designed” to drink.
But what about the fructose found in freshly made apple cider you just bought from the farmer’s market? Can the fructose in unsweetened juice also cause problems? Well, yes and no. Yes, if you decide that you’re going to drink an entire gallon. But in moderate amounts, unsweetened juice doesn’t have to be the enemy. In fact, experts in the field have argued that juice can be a source of valuable nutrients without causing weight gain (and presumably all the other nasty stuff associated with HFCS).
And do you have to worry about the fructose lurking in your basket full of strawberries, peaches and baby carrots from the farmer’s market? To answer that question, you may be happy to hear that a diet can include a sizeable amount of fructose and still be considered “healthy” by nutrition experts. The proviso? The source of the fructose should be whole fruits and vegetables. A completely different source than high fructose corn syrup!
There may be some exceptions, as high fructose fruits can, in some people, worsen symptoms of irritable bowel disease. These fruits include honeydew, star fruit, pear, pawpaw/papaya, mango, guava, watermelon, and apple. Still, it really is the most“refined” fructose that has the most negative effect on bowel function. Likewise, in the case of diabetes or pre-diabetes, even the “healthy” fructose found in fruit may be of concern, but HFCS is an even bigger no-no.
BOTTOM LINE: Fruits and vegetables are an important part of your diet, fructose and all. Not so much for high-fructose corn syrup. So, keep your eyes peeled for evidence that HFCS might be inadvertently entering your food supply. It’s easy enough to recognize in soda, but HFCS isn’t above showing up in yogurt, granola bars, and salad dressing!