fructose for diabetes and healthy lifestyle

Fructose is a simple sugar found in common foods, including honey, table sugar (sucrose), carrots, and fruits. Because of its low glycemic index (19), compared to glucose (100), it was once considered a good substitute for sucrose in diabetic and weight reducing diets. However, cumulative scientific evidence has led nutritionists to change their views about this presumable benefit.

During the 80’s, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), an incredible inexpensive sweetener, made its way into our current food chain. Because of its higher sweetening power, it was proposed as a safe product for diabetics since only small amounts were needed to achieve a “sweet taste” in foods and desserts, reducing the total caloric content of the diet. Another advantage was that compared to table sugar, adding HFCS to meals results in lower circulating insulin. Due to these attractive attributes, HFCS was regarded as an efficient and cheap alternative to other natural sugars for diabetics and overweighed individuals, and to prevent disturbances in glucose metabolism. However, HFCS was apparently too good to be true! More recently, experts have determined detrimental effects on health associated with high and prolonged intakes of HFCS and fructose, in general.

Several studies, carried out in rats and other animals, have confirmed that excess fructose consumption increases insulin resistance and, eventually, Type 2 diabetes. It also interferes with the appetite-regulating hormones leading to overeating that increases weight gain and promotes accumulation of abdominal fat. Fructose promotes higher levels of bad cholesterol (LDLc) and triglycerides, and lower good cholesterol or HDLc levels. All these abnormalities are risk factors for heart disease.

Considering these controversial effects of fructose, one question comes to mind: is it good or bad for your health? The answer is not a simple yes or not! One thing is absolutely clear though: moderation is the key. Fructose should not be consumed in excessive amounts. This may not be easy to do since during the last 30 years, almost all packaged foods have HFCS (or some form of fructose) added due to its huge availability and low price.

Each day, more and more processed foods such as fruit juice concentrates, various flavored syrups, sauces, cereals, salad dressings, granolas, and artificial flavoring agents, contain quite a lot fructose. This fact makes even more difficult to assess fully the possible positive effects of this particular sugar. As a consequence, it has prevailed the clinical findings relating the outstanding increased incidence of obesity, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes to fructose consumption.

However, it must be emphasized that a small amount of fructose (usually about 50 g / day) such as those found in most vegetable and fruits are considered safe and healthy. Consumed in this amount, fructose may indeed lower HbA1c levels and help dietary efforts to lose body weight. Again, it is always preferable to obtain your fructose from fruits and veggies so the dietary fiber ingested along with them will enhance the positive effects of fructose.


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Dr. Montserrat Rodríguez

Dr. Montserrat Rodríguez


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