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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Fructose in perspective

Richard D Feinman1* and Eugene J Fine12

Author Affiliations

1 State University of New York Downstate Medical Center, Brooklyn, NY, USA

2 Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY, USA

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Nutrition & Metabolism 2013, 10:45  doi:10.1186/1743-7075-10-45

Published: 1 July 2013

Abstract

Whether dietary fructose (as sucrose or high fructose corn syrup) has unique effects separate from its role as carbohydrate, or, in fact, whether it can be considered inherently harmful, even a toxin, has assumed prominence in nutrition. Much of the popular and scientific media have already decided against fructose and calls for regulation and taxation come from many quarters. There are conflicting data, however. Outcomes attributed to fructose — obesity, high triglycerides and other features of metabolic syndrome — are not found in every experimental test and may be more reliably caused by increased total carbohydrate. In this review, we try to put fructose in perspective by looking at the basic metabolic reactions. We conclude that fructose is best understood as part of carbohydrate metabolism. The pathways of fructose and glucose metabolism converge at the level of the triose-phosphates and, therefore, any downstream effects also occur with glucose. In addition, a substantial part of ingested fructose is turned to glucose. Regulation of fructose metabolism per se, is at the level of substrate control — the lower Km of fructokinase compared to glucokinase will affect the population of triose-phosphates. Generally deleterious effects of administering fructose alone suggest that fructose metabolism is normally controlled in part by glucose. Because the mechanisms of fructose effects are largely those of a carbohydrate, one has to ask what the proper control should be for experiments that compare fructose to glucose. In fact, there is a large literature showing benefits in replacing total carbohydrate with other nutrients, usually fat, and such experiments sensibly constitute the proper control for comparisons of the two sugars. In terms of public health, a rush to judgement analogous to the fat-cholesterol-heart story, is likely to have unpredictable outcome and unintended consequences. Popular opinion cannot be ignored in this problem and comparing fructose to ethanol, for example, is without biochemical correlates. Also, nothing in the biochemistry suggests that sugar is a toxin. Dietary carbohydrate restriction remains the best strategy for obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome. The specific contribution of the removal of fructose or sucrose to this effect remains unknown.

Keywords:
Carbohydrate; Fructose; Glucose; Sugar; Low-carbohydrate diet; Metabolic syndrome