Fructose has been the target of a deep well of negative health news over the past decade or so. Its most glaring presence, in terms of our collective nutrition, is in high-fructose corn syrup. This is a classic ingredient in many unhealthy foods, notably soft drinks. But a new study suggests that maybe we have it wrong with fructose.
It asks: Is fructose being unfairly blamed for the obesity epidemic? Or do we just eat and drink too many calories?
The study comes courtesy of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Canada, and reviewed more than 40 published studies on whether the fructose molecule itself causes weight gain. Fructose, after all, is a natural sugar found in fruits, vegetables and honey. But the food-manufacturing industry uses it in ways that can make a food quite unhealthy.
So let’s get to the study. Researchers found 31 trials that looked into this question. In them, participants ate a similar number of calories — but one group ate pure fructose and the other ate non-fructose carbohydrates. In these studies, the fructose group did not gain weight! That finding flies in the face of our pattern of thinking about fructose and obesity.
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In 10 other studies, one group consumed their usual diet, while the other added excess calories in the form of pure fructose to their usual diet or a control diet. Those who consumed the extra calories as fructose did wind up putting on more pounds. But the researchers note that this could be explained: one calorie is simply the same as another.
And when we consume too many calories, we wind up gaining weight. This was published last week in the prestigious “Annals of Internal Medicine.” It points to a new conclusion: rather than fructose directly contributing to people being overweight, it might just go back to calories. Overconsumption is the issue, and is to blame.
Participants in the studies ate fructose in the form of “free crystalline” fructose, which was either baked into food or sprinkled on cereals or beverages. The studies did not, notably, look at high-fructose corn syrup. This form is actually only 55% fructose, along with water and glucose.
Researchers said the majority of studies they examined were small, and larger more well-designed studies are needed to sort out exactly what impact fructose has on our figures.