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Fructose is Bad for Metabolic Health: Myth or Reality?

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Fructose is a specific type of sugar primarily derived from natural sources. Fruits have a high level of fructose. Additional food items like honey and flowers also contain a notable amount of this sugar. It is famous as one considers it a healthy sugar substitute. Fructose sourced from sugarcane is a common ingredient for sugar-free products since it has fewer calories than table sugar or sucrose. Since fructose gets marketed as a healthy product, many people automatically assume that all fructose sources are healthy for them. However, this is not the case. Studies show fructose is bad for metabolic health if you are not careful enough when sourcing it. While most fruit-based fructose doesn’t cause much harm, certain products may end up spiking your blood sugar. 

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How Does the Body Process Fructose?

Research shows that fructose is the sweetest sugar with the least side effects on the body. Also, fructose and glucose are both monosaccharides, implying that these sugars are in their simplest forms. They get directly absorbed into the blood. Unlike sucrose, a disaccharide of fructose and glucose, fructose is processed by the body quickly. 

Fructose first gets converted into glucose which the body can use as an energy source. Then, the liver processes the fructose and retains it after releasing glucose into the blood. Further research shows fructose also generates a suitable amount of insulin, making it a suitable sugar replacement for diabetic patients. However, excess fructose can spike your blood sugar and may cause hypo and hyperglycemia.

Role of Fructose in the Human Body

Fructose in regulated quantities is quite beneficial for the body. Therefore, doctors advise people to avoid table sugar and prefer fructose to avail of its benefits. To understand the role of fructose and metabolism, you need to understand the role of fructose in the human body:

Improves Glucose Metabolism 

Studies show fructose helps to enhance glucose metabolism, especially when you take it in moderate quantities. Additionally, it helps the liver store glycogen, which acts as an emergency energy source for the body in times of crisis. This stored glycogen can be converted into glucose and used by the body during fasts and energy shortages.

Facilitates Energy Production 

Fructose is also an important energy source for the cells in our body. The cells require energy to regenerate and maintain the “resting membrane potential,” which facilitates cell-to-cell communication. According to a study, fructose undergoes synthesis in the cells through a process called aerobic respiration. After aerobic respiration, ATP is produced, which is also the cellular energy molecule. Cells then use these ATPs to perform their specific functions. 

Maintains Insulin Levels

Fructose can be an alternate and safer source of sugar for diabetic patients. People with diabetes can consume it moderately to maintain their normal insulin levels. It is primarily because fructose is better than sucrose. Moreover, if you consume it in moderation, fructose produces adequate insulin, which can be permissible. However, it is vital to understand that people with diabetes should consume fruits with a low glycemic index to get fructose. Furthermore, fruits high in sugar, such as grapes, mango and pineapple, can spike their blood sugar and lead to more blood sugar issues and health challenges. So, if you take fructose in recommended doses and from the right sources, there is a lower risk of spiking sugar levels.

Foods High in Fructose

Fructose is naturally prevalent in many fruits and vegetables. However, a few other natural and factory-produced ingredients also contain high levels of fructose. 

Here are some of the foods which are rich in fructose:

Fruits

Fruits are the best source of naturally occurring fructose. Some fruits, among the many, have even higher concentrations of fructose. These fruits include grapes, sugarcane blueberries, raisins, watermelon, pears, apples, pineapples, etc. 

Vegetables

Besides fruits, even vegetables have a good amount of fructose. These vegetables include beets, artichokes, asparagus, mushrooms, okra (bhindi), pepper, shallots, broccoli, and tomatoes. The list for high fructose vegetables is comparatively smaller than for fruits.

Other Natural Ingredients

Some plant-based or organically produced food also have high traces of fructose. Most of these products are popular replacements for sucrose or table sugar. Honey, molasses, palm sugar, and cane sugar are some of these organically sourced products which don’t harm the body as much as their processed alternatives.

Processed Foods

High-fructose corn syrup has the highest concentration of fructose among natural and artificial sources. Some other sources of fructose among factory-produced goods are maple-flavoured syrup, soft drinks, bottled fruit juices, processed honey, sweet cereals, candies, etc. Packed bakery items at grocery stores also harm the body since they may contain high amounts of fructose. 

The HealthifyMe Note

Several pieces of evidence show that excessive consumption of fructose can be harmful. Fibre-rich whole fruits require chewing and digestion time. As a result, your body can readily absorb a modest amount of fructose, and you feel fuller. Others, however, asserted that metabolic issues could result from excessive consumption.

The Adverse Effects of Excess Fructose

Even though fructose is considered healthy for people, the reality is quite different. Most people don’t realise that too much of anything is not suitable for the body. Fructose may be pretty harmful to the body if eaten in unchecked quantities. Recent studies have shown that fructose has some disturbing side effects. 

Here is a list of medical problems which may arise from consuming too much fructose:

Obesity 

Fructose gets utilised mainly by the body when taken in small quantities. However, according to research, excess fructose gets converted to triglycerides in your liver and gets stored as fat. Abnormal weight gain can lead to obesity in people. People who consume high amounts of fructose can also cause leptin interlace. In addition, studies show leptin intolerance can lead to more food cravings. This effect may cause overeating or uncontrolled eating, leading to weight gain. 

Liver Problems

Your liver metabolises 70% of the fructose. Your bloodstream directly absorbs fructose. However, research shows excess fructose is converted into glycogen and fat through lipogenesis and stored in the liver. Further research shows small quantities of glycogen and fat won’t significantly affect your liver. However, excess glucose consumption can cause problems like non-alcoholic fatty liver and other liver diseases.

Poor Metabolism 

In recent times, many studies have proved the role of fructose in promoting metabolic syndrome. On preliminary levels, excessive fructose intake can lead to obesity, which is a top reason for slowed metabolism and metabolic syndrome. In addition, a high intake of fructose can contribute to leptin sensitivity, promoting overeating. 

According to research, when you eat too many calories for normal resting metabolism to work, your metabolism slows down significantly while trying to break down the calories. Additionally, too many calories add to one’s weight, and the cycle of slow metabolism and obesity continues. Even though fructose is easy to absorb, the fat produced from excess fructose is difficult to break down and slows down one’s metabolic power.

Elevated Uric Acid and Cholesterol Levels 

Fructose has several other implications for the body. For example, fructose produces higher uric acid levels in the blood. Additionally, studies have proved that fructose causes a significant rise in LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels and can contribute to chronic health issues. According to research, a rise in blood cholesterol levels also clogs arteries and blood vessels which may cause chronic heart diseases.

The HealthifyMe Note

Fruit and other low-calorie foods can help you lose weight by replacing high-calorie foods in your diet. A problem known as fructose malabsorption occurs when some people do not absorb all of the fructose they consume. At the same time, a high-calorie diet will contribute to excessive weight gain. Furthermore, several studies also point out the possibility that human chronic diseases, including cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, may be exacerbated by a high fructose diet.

Ways to Cut Down Bad Fructose

Fructose is not something you can indulge in for a long time. Like everything, fructose must be consumed in regulated quantities to avoid side effects. Some individuals with existing heart and liver health issues should be extra careful when consuming fructose-based products. Below are a few ways to regulate your fructose dosage and avoid consuming foods which will harm your health:

Avoid Processed Food

Processed food, especially those which tend to be sweet, contains a good amount of fructose. Fructose is sweeter than most sugars which is why many brands use it in huge quantities. Unfortunately, one common ingredient in processed and packaged food is high-fructose corn syrup which has proved highly unhealthy. 

Additionally, food like cereals, candies, desserts, bbq sauce, etc., have a significant amount of fructose which can harm your health when eaten in unregulated quantities. Anyone with chronic health issues should limit the intake of processed foods. However, even when you decrease the frequency of eating processed food, it’s also necessary to regulate the amount you eat in one sitting. A person can consume 2-3 tablespoons of fructose in one sitting.

Avoid Artificial Sweeteners

Most artificial sweeteners also have a high amount of fructose in the form of high-fructose corn syrup. Sweetened honey from stores, sweet cooking and dipping sauces, etc., contain too much fructose. Always check the labels of packaged products to see the number of artificial sweeteners added. Also, verify whether your honey is raw, ethically and organically sourced or processed in factories to improve its taste. People should avoid packaged and sweetened foods to cut down on fructose consumption.

Avoid Sugary Bottled Drinks 

Many brands sell ‘natural’ fruit juices, which are often highly processed and high in sugar. Most bottled fruit juices, milkshakes, and syrups have added sweeteners or fructose. When consumed, the high fructose concentration will mess up your metabolic health and lead to many health issues. It is better to prepare fresh juice at home and use more vegetables than fruit. Do not consume packaged beverages every day. People should also avoid energy drinks to cut down on fructose consumption. 

Eat Fruits in Moderation

A few fruits have exceptionally high quantities of fructose. Dried fruits especially have excess fructose, which is not good for the long run. Eating fruits every day is a healthy habit. However, it would help if you were careful not to consume high-fructose fruits daily. Alternate your fruits and always buy them fresh when you like eating them. It is tough to say how much fruit you should eat daily. You can consult a dietician or nutritionist to set up a proper diet plan according to your body’s requirements. 

Conclusion

Fructose can be an excellent alternative to sugar, but only if you eat it in moderation. Fructose is bad for metabolic health when you eat way more than necessary. Always remember that excess fructose can be the reason you are rapidly putting on an extra few kilos. Excess fructose also slows down your metabolism. If you are not careful, you will develop metabolic syndrome in the long run. Limit or avoid high-fructose corn syrup and processed food with unhealthy amounts of fructose. It would help if you also made a few lifestyle changes to eat fresh and organic food which does not go through intensive processing and does not contain unhealthy ingredients. 

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