Nutrition Research Reviews

Misconceptions about fructose-containing sugars and their role in the obesity epidemic

Vincent J. van Buula1, Luc Tappya2 and Fred J. P. H. Brounsa1 c1

a1 Maastricht University, Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, Department of Human Biology, PO Box 616, 6200 MD, Maastricht, The Netherlands

a2 University of Lausanne, Department of Physiology, 7 Rue du Bugnon, CH-1005, Lausanne, Switzerland

Abstract

A causal role of fructose intake in the aetiology of the global obesity epidemic has been proposed in recent years. This proposition, however, rests on controversial interpretations of two distinct lines of research. On one hand, in mechanistic intervention studies, detrimental metabolic effects have been observed after excessive isolated fructose intakes in animals and human subjects. On the other hand, food disappearance data indicate that fructose consumption from added sugars has increased over the past decades and paralleled the increase in obesity. Both lines of research are presently insufficient to demonstrate a causal role of fructose in metabolic diseases, however. Most mechanistic intervention studies were performed on subjects fed large amounts of pure fructose, while fructose is ordinarily ingested together with glucose. The use of food disappearance data does not accurately reflect food consumption, and hence cannot be used as evidence of a causal link between fructose intake and obesity. Based on a thorough review of the literature, we demonstrate that fructose, as commonly consumed in mixed carbohydrate sources, does not exert specific metabolic effects that can account for an increase in body weight. Consequently, public health recommendations and policies aiming at reducing fructose consumption only, without additional diet and lifestyle targets, would be disputable and impractical. Although the available evidence indicates that the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with body-weight gain, and it may be that fructose is among the main constituents of these beverages, energy overconsumption is much more important to consider in terms of the obesity epidemic.

(Received April 01 2013)

(Revised November 22 2013)

(Accepted January 31 2014)

Key Words:

  • Fructose;
  • Sugar;
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages;
  • Obesity

Correspondence

c1 Corresponding author: Professor Fred Brouns, email fred.brouns@maastrichtuniversity.nl

Footnotes

  Abbreviations: EFSA, European Food Safety Authority; EU, European Union; HFCS, high-fructose corn syrup; SSB, sugar-sweetened beverages

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