Since the late 1970s, the consumption of fructose has increased 30 percent, according to a 2017 review in Nutrients. The incidence of obesity has risen in parallel to this, although no clear link has been established. In addition, increased fructose consumption may also contribute to the rise in fructose malabsorption and fructose intolerance. Although fruits and vegetables are healthy sources of this sugar, you may need to avoid certain foods if you are sensitive to it. For weight management and overall good health, everyone should avoid processed foods to which fructose has been added.
What is Fructose?
Fructose is a simple sugar — or monosaccharide — that is naturally found in fruits, vegetables and some natural sweeteners. Plain fructose is also sold as a sweetener, and it appeals both to those trying to manage their weight and to diabetics. Because fructose is up to twice as sweet as regular table sugar, you can theoretically use less and therefore take in fewer calories. Fructose also has less of an impact on blood sugar and insulin production than sucrose, which makes it a better option for diabetics.
However, that doesn't mean fructose on its own is good for you. Fructose is metabolized by the liver much more quickly than other sugars. Whatever fructose the liver doesn't convert to glucose — your body's main source of energy — is converted to fat. Excess fructose consumption can lead to the build-up of fats in the liver and a condition called nonalcoholic fatty liver, as well as raise levels of triglycerides, which contributes to high blood pressure and heart disease.
This is exacerbated when fructose is combined with glucose from corn starch to make high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Glucose affects blood sugar even more than sucrose and fructose. In fact, on the glycemic index, a scale from 0 to 100 used as a measurement for how quickly and how much foods affect blood sugar, glucose has a score of 100, while sucrose has a score of 65 and fructose has a score of 19.
Fructose Malabsorption and Fructose Intolerance
People who suffer from fructose malabsorption or intolerance can't properly digest fructose, which can lead to abdominal pain, diarrhea and gas. These people may need to avoid or limit even healthy, nutritious forms of fructose, including:
Limited amounts of these other fructose foods may be tolerated when eaten as part of a meal:
- Green beans
Natural sweeteners that most people can use in moderation without negative effects may also need to be limited by people with fructose malabsorption or intolerance, including:
- Maple syrup
- Coconut sugar
- Palm sugar
Last, a grain called sorghum can pose a problem for people who cannot easily digest fructose.
Fructose Foods Everyone Should Avoid
Whether you have diabetes, a problem with digesting fructose, weight-management issues or none of the above, HFCS generally shouldn't be a part of your diet. Foods that may contain HFCS include:
- Sweetened yogurt
- Store-bought salad dressing
- Frozen junk foods
- Canned fruit
- Store-bought baked goods
- Granola and nutrition bars
- Snack foods
- Coffee creamer
- Jams and jellies
- Sports drinks
- Ice cream
- Sauces and condiments
While not all of these foods contain HFCS, check the labels to see which ones do.
- Nutrients: Fructose Consumption in the Development of Obesity and the Effects of Different Protocols of Physical Exercise on the Hepatic Metabolism
- Current Gastroenterology Reports: Dietary Fructose Intolerance, Gructan Intolerance and FODMAPs
- Calorie Control Council: Fructose
- Gabriel Cousens, MD: Fructose and Diabetes
- Glycemic Index Foundation: GI And Sugar
- Mayo Clinic: Fructose Intolerance: Which Foods to Avoid?
- Healthline: 20 Foods With High-Fructose Corn Syrup