Fructose – Obesity’s Secret Weapon!

Most people will tell you that a little sugar isn’t all that bad and that it’s found in nature. I agree. The problem is that we don’t just eat a little sugar and the type we do eat is a whole lot different to the form of sugar found in nature.

When we eat sugar (either as a starchy carbohydrate or refined sugar) our pancreas releases insulin. Insulin helps to remove the sugar from our blood stream and it is either used for energy or stored as fat. How much we “burn off” or store as fat depends on our daily activity level. The more active we are the more energy we use. Straight forward enough? Maybe not.

Hidden Sugar

When we think of sugar we think of chocolate, ice cream, cake and cookies. These are obvious high sugar foods and we can choose to avoid them because it’s expected that these foods contain sugar. But what about bread, breakfast cereals, canned beans, yogurts and salad dressing? These are foods we generally don’t associate with sugar, but guess what? They’re loaded with it!

Unless you’re eating natural, unprocessed foods or meals that you make yourself from scratch you can be sure you are taking in plenty of hidden sugar each day. If that wasn’t bad enough, there’s a type of sugar being added to foods which may well be worse than regular table sugar…


Fructose is a sugar found naturally in fruits and vegetables. So how can it be bad? In nature fructose is always accompanied by fiber. The higher the fructose in a fruit or vegetable the more fiber is present. The problems begin when we remove the fiber and are left with pure fructose.

A good example of fructose without fiber in our diet is fruit juice. An orange is healthy and nutritious, orange juice (even when freshly squeezed by you) is not. Fructose in this unnatural state wreaks havoc on our health.

While fruit juice has been around for quite a while and has played a part in the obesity epidemic, particularly childhood obesity, fructose without fiber in processed foods was only introduced to the food chain in the 1970’s. In the United States it’s called high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). It has only started to make it’s way into Europe in the last couple of years where it’s called glucose-fructose. Have a look at chocolate bars and cereals and you’re likely to see it.

Why Is Pure Fructose Bad?

Unlike sugar (which is still bad for us when eaten in excess) our body doesn’t recognize fructose without fiber as being a food. This causes a number of problems.

  1. Fructose doesn’t cause us to release insulin
  2. Leptin – a hormone that sends us the “stop eating” signal is not activated
  3. Fructose doesn’t suppress ghrelin – the hunger hormone

What Effect Does This Have On Our Health?

It means we can consume massive quantities of fructose without feeling full. So not only do we not feel satisfied, we actually feel hungry and eat more.

Soft drinks and processed foods are a great example. Have you ever witnessed someone drink a litre bottle of cola in one sitting? Or eat an entire cake? Well that’s only possible because fructose bypasses the “I’m full” signal. So we’re taking in all the calories from the fructose plus all the calories from the food we eat afterwards which more often than not will contain high levels of sugar, salt and fat. All those extra calories add up.

HFCS and glucose-fructose allow us to eat more food without feeling full.

Is Fructose Toxic?

When we eat sugar or carbohydrates they are stored as glycogen in the muscles for energy with a small amount stored in the liver as back up energy. Fructose on the other hand doesn’t go to the muscles to be used for energy. Instead all of it goes to the liver, but not for energy.

No it’s sent to the liver because the body views it as a toxin. High levels of fructose are toxic to the body and cause damage to the liver. Taking in high levels of fructose is quite simple because we can consume vast quantities at one sitting. This can leading to inflammation and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. So causing us to feel hungry after we have eaten and eat more is not the only issue with fructose. It can also damage our organs.

Why Use Fructose As A Sweetener?

When the low-fat movement kicked in people quickly realised that fat-free food was taste-free food. So the food industry decided to replace the fat with something else that tasted good – sugar. In the States sugar beets are expensive, so they wanted to find a more cost effective alternative. Corn proved to be the perfect option as it was abundant and cheap.

Fructose eventually found it’s way into just about every processed food on the market in North America. It seems pretty coincidental that as the number of foods containing fructose increased so did cases of obesity.

The ability to eat much larger quantities that would not have been physically possible before the introduction of HFCS could only lead to weight gain and the many inflammatory dieases associated with obesity. Another scary point is that most processed foods contain both sugar and glucose-fructose/HFCS as well as damaged fats and high levels of salt, so you’re looking at obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.

Fructose In Ireland

At the moment in Ireland glucose-fructose has only started to creep onto the market but it has made it’s way here. Breakfast cereals, sweets, chocolates bars, ice cream and biscuits. At the rate it’s going at it’s only a matter of time before we find ourselves in the same state as the North America, and to be honest I think we are well on our way.

5 Tips To Help You Avoid Fructose In Your Diet

Now to be absolutely clear, I am not talking about whole fruit and vegetables here. Fructose when consumed in it’s natural state as whole fruit or vegetables is perfectly fine and healthy. It’s only when the fiber is removed that it becomes a problem.

The next time you go food shopping have a look at the ingredient labels and you'll quickly see that in order to avoid added fructose, HFCS or glucose-fructose you need to stick to foods that are as unrefined and as close to their natural state as possible.

1. Read ingredient labels –

It’s the quickest way to see if it contains glucose-fructose/HFCS. You don’t have to spend hours reading the ingredients everything at once but getting into the habit of quickly scanning ingredients and being able to spot glucose-fructose or HFSC will make you more aware of what kinds of foods are best avoided. The longer the list of ingredients beyond what the food is supposed to be, the less healthy it’s likely to be.

2. Avoid fruit juice –

There’s no denying it, fruit juice tastes great and kids love it. It just isn’t good for your health, even if you make it fresh yourself. While whole fruits are great, when we juice them the fructose in this concentrated form is what causes the harm. We can easily consume so much more fructose in this liquid form than we would if eating the same fruits in their whole form. So if you’re going to give your kids juice really, REALLY dilute it and try and add in some of the pulp if possible.

3. Avoid soft drinks, fast food and ready-made meals –

Avoiding these foods is a good idea regardless of your health goals or concerns as they are high in salt, sugar, damaged fats and other nasty ingredients, but as an added incentive to give them up they also contain large amounts of HFCS.

4. Increase your intake of fiber

Foods rich in fiber like whole vegetables and fruits are excellent for your health and weight management as they have the opposite effect to fructose on the body – they fill you up before you get fat. They also have a high nutrient content and a low calorie content.

5. Make your own meals –

Try to prepare as many meals and snacks as possible yourself, using fresh or minimally processed meals. It may not be as convenient as pre-packed foods but it allows you to have control of what is in your foods. It also helps you to make a stronger connection with how your food effects your health.

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