There's a significant focus in the popular media on the role of fructose in health. For instance, you may have heard that high-fructose corn syrup is bad for you and might wonder whether that's because the fructose is "artificial" as opposed to "natural." Actually, there's no difference between artificial and natural fructose.
Fructose is a sugar closely related to the more common sugar glucose. They have the same chemical formula — C6H12O6 — and both taste sweet. Your cells can use either for energy, and while fructose tastes significantly sweeter than glucose, each contain 4 calories per g consumed. One common source of fructose is fruit, but you will also find fructose chemically bonded to glucose to make sucrose, which is the chemical name for table sugar.
Natural Vs. Artificial Fructose
There's no chemical difference between "natural" and "artificial" fructose; the molecules are absolutely indistinguishable from one another, have identical properties and act identically in the body. Most "artificial" fructose — which might more appropriately be called industrially-produced fructose — comes from using enzymes to convert glucose into fructose. "Natural" fructose, which occurs in foods, is made by the cells in those foods in the same way; it's converted over from glucose.
Fructose And Health
Many studies suggest fructose, especially in large quantities, is not a healthy component of diet. For instance, ScienceDaily.com reports that fructose-containing drinks can increase triglyceride levels, which isn't heart-healthy. Similarly, a 2004 study in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" by Dr. George Bray and colleagues suggests that increased fructose consumption could play an important role in the rising rate of obesity in industrialized countries.
Sources of Fructose
While there's mounting evidence to suggest that high-fructose corn syrup isn't a healthy sweetener, it is not because the fructose in the corn syrup is industrially-produced that makes it a problem; eating large quantities of naturally-produced fructose would have the same effect. One major difference between naturally-occurring and industrially-produced fructose is that the former is not found in nature in high concentrations, while the latter is added to most processed foods, making it pervasive and difficult to avoid, potentially leading to some of its role in promoting obesity.
- ScienceDaily: Fructose-Sweetened Drinks Increase Nonfasting Triglycerides In Obese Adults
- "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition"; Consumption of High-Fructose Corn Syrup in Beverages May Play a Role in the Epidemic of Obesity; George Bray, et al; April 2004