When your favorite fitness guru tells you to cut down on sugars, what do they mean? Sure, excessive consumption of sugar may be dangerous for your health and even impede your fitness goals. However, whenever we use the word, “sugars” do we unnecessarily create one big umbrella of all types of sugars?
Sugars can either be monosaccharides or disaccharides. Monosaccharides are the simplest form of sugars, and that’s where fructose falls in. Sucrose, on the other hand, is a disaccharide made up of glucose and fructose. Here’s how to know which is healthier for you.
What Is Fructose?
Fructose is a monosaccharide that is largely considered to be the sweetest naturally occurring caloric sweetener. Being a monosaccharide means it is a single sugar molecule made up of 6 carbon atoms, 6 oxygen atoms, and 12 hydrogen atoms (13). Also, it exhibits a higher level of sweetness in comparison to other sugars.
So when it’s all about fructose vs sucrose sweetness, the former will always win. As a result, people who cook using fructose require smaller amounts to achieve the same sweetness as other sugars.
Fructose is mainly found in fruits, fruit juices, honey, and certain vegetables. However, the most common sources of fructose in your diets include Honey, table sugar, agave nectar, fruit juices, and High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS).
HFCS is created when manufacturers add certain enzymes to corn starch, which is primarily glucose. This glucose is then used to create a syrup that is made up of varying amounts of fructose. The most common varieties contain either 42 or 55 percent fructose and the rest is glucose and water. This essentially puts HFCS and sucrose or table sugar close to par when it comes to fructose levels.
Honey and table sugars are other common food additives that contain fructose. Honey comprises about 40% fructose. On the other hand, Table sugar is manufactured from a combination of fructose and glucose.
That being said, about the chemical make-up and use of fructose, let’s now take a look at sucrose.
What Is Sucrose?
Sucrose is just a fancy scientific way of saying table sugar. Remember when we earlier said that sugars could either be monosaccharides or disaccharides? Well, sucrose is a disaccharide, meaning that it’s made up of two linked monosaccharides. Specifically, it’s composed of one glucose and one fructose molecule, 50% fructose and 50% glucose (2).
Sucrose, however, has a less sweet taste compared to pure fructose but is sweeter than pure glucose (3). Also, it is a naturally occurring carbohydrate that can be found in several vegetables, fruits, and grains. However, it can also be added to processed foods like candy, breakfast cereals, ice cream, and sweetened beverages.
Sucrose found in table sugar and processed food is majorly extracted from sugar beets or sugar canes. So how do the two compare when it comes to digestion and metabolism? Keep reading to find out.
Sucrose Vs. Fructose Metabolism
Fructose and sucrose are digested, metabolized, and used differently by your body. This can largely be attributed to their unique chemical structures. So when it comes to fructose vs sucrose, which sugar will be metabolized by your body faster? Below is a detailed description of how each of the two sugars is metabolized and used by your body.
Fructose being a monosaccharide, is absorbed instantaneously by your body into your bloodstream. This process usually occurs in your small intestine (10). Your liver will then convert it to glucose before your body utilizes it for energy. It has also been observed to raise your blood sugar levels gradually compared to glucose. Also, its effect on insulin secretion is not as immediate as glucose (6).
Sucrose being a disaccharide, will undergo slightly different processes before your body can use it. It’s true that your body can directly absorb and use monosaccharides; however, this does not hold for disaccharides too. Therefore, sucrose will have to be broken down into simpler forms before being utilized by your body.
This process ideally begins in your mouth. Enzymes produced by glands in your mouth will partially break down sucrose into fructose and glucose. It is, however, important to note that the majority of sugar digestion will happen in your small intestine. The sucrase enzyme secreted in your small intestine largely makes this possible (10).
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Sucrose Vs. Fructose Calories
When you’re trying to reduce your sugar consumption, you may stand wondering which type to minimize and which to keep. Well, it’s easy to blame one ingredient for health problems over the other. However, this should not be the case since it all boils down to the balance on your cups and plates.
Fructose, glucose, and sucrose are types of sugars that contain similar numbers of calories. All of them occur naturally and can be found in vegetables, fruits, and dairy products. However, they are also added to several processed foods. The major difference between the three lies in their chemical structures and how your body will digest and metabolize them.
All sugars contain the same number of calories- 4 calories per gram. So in the fructose vs sucrose calories comparison, there’s no better or worse sugar. Therefore, if you’re looking to cut down on sugar consumption because of caloric content, there shouldn’t be any preferences.
Remember, moderation is what is key. The American Heart Association recommends a maximum of 100 calories from sugar daily for women and 150 calories for men.
Sucrose Vs. Fructose Health Effects
So between fructose and sucrose, which is better, or rather, which is healthier for you? To answer that question, it’s paramount we look at the specific health effects of consuming each of the sugars. We start with fructose.
Fructose found in natural fresh fruits and vegetables is good for your health. This is because it comes along with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and water. However, processed forms of fructose like HFCS which are used as added sugars can lead to some negative health effects. Multiple research and studies are ongoing to determine the possible benefits and risks on a person’s health. Below are examples of such studies.
Sucrose Vs. Fructose: Which Is Healthier?
So is fructose bad for you? And is sucrose any better? Here are some science-backed studies that look into the health effects of both fructose and sucrose.
Evidence Against Fructose
Your body processes fructose differently compared to other sugars. There are specific concerns by researchers relating to how fructose affects fat storage. They believe that excessive consumption of fructose can stimulate fat storage around your liver. This can ultimately lead to nonalcoholic liver disease (8).
Also, according to this literature review done in 2017, high fructose intake is associated with (7):
- Inflammation which can eventually lead to insulin resistance in your body.
- Enhanced development of body fat because it alters how your body breaks down carbohydrates and fats.
- Increased risk of obesity and related conditions like metabolic syndrome.
- Increased food intake since fructose will generally reduce your satiety.
- Increasing the levels of uric acid in your blood. This may eventually lead to gout and high blood pressure.
- Increasing leptin resistance that affects the regulation of body fat.
In one study conducted in 2016, researchers sought to identify the effects of fructose-rich drinks in Taiwan. The focus group was individuals aged between 12-16 years. The results indicated that those who drank more of this beverage developed higher levels of insulin resistance. This is also a risk factor for hardened arteries, diabetes, and heart disease among adults.
Evidence Supporting Fructose
There is a lot of evidence that supports the negative health effects of consuming excess fructose in your body. However, it is difficult to separate the effects of other sugars from fructose in your diet. This is usually because most foods having high fructose levels come with significant amounts of other sugars like glucose.
A literature review in 2014 suggests that fructose does not have specific significant weight gain effects on your body. This is when it’s compared to sugars from other sources. Researchers also argued that in addition to fructose, sugar-sweetened drinks also have high amounts of calories. This may explain the link between these beverages and obesity (11).
This sentiment is largely backed by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA insists they are not currently aware of evidence showing the adverse effects of food containing HFCS. This means that foods containing HFCS may be just as safe as similar sweeteners like honey.
The FDA still lists HFCS as the most controversial of the fructose-containing foods that are safe to eat. However, experts and professionals do agree that everyone should limit their intake of all added sugars. Therefore, it doesn’t matter whether it’s sucrose vs. high fructose corn syrup. All will pose significant health risks if consumed excessively.
It is also important to note that fruits with natural fructose are perfectly healthy for you. That’s because, in addition to fructose, they have a very low-calorie density and a lot of fiber. It’s also really hard to overeat them, so the risk of consuming harmful levels of fructose is significantly low.
Let’s now take a look at the health implications of sucrose.
Sucrose May Lead To Weight Gain
Apart from carbohydrates, sugar does not supply your body with any other nutrients. Protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals are all inexistent in their nutritional profile. However, it does come with about 50 calories per tablespoon. This may sound like an insignificant amount, but it isn’t.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the average American consumes 6 cups of sugar weekly. This translates to 4800 calories every week or 685 calories per day from sugar alone.
Let’s put that into perspective. You need an average of about 2000 calories every day. Going by those statistics, it would mean sugar makes up 34% of your daily calorie intake. That means that 34% of your daily calorie intake has zero nutrients.
These subtle increments may end up making you exceed your daily calorie needs without you noticing. A domino is then created where your body will store the excess as fats. As time goes by, you gain more weight and get exposed to health risks like obesity.
Obesity, in turn, has been linked to several health hazards. According to the National Institutes of Health, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke. It has also been associated with osteoarthritis, fatty liver disease, and kidney disease (9).
Sucrose Can Cause A Spike In Your Blood Sugar Levels
It’s true that sugar is a carb that your body needs for energy. However, that does not make it a healthy carb. Sucrose is a simple carb, which means it’s easy for your body to break it down rapidly. This will then cause your blood sugar levels to rise drastically.
The sudden increase of blood sugar in your body will cause a dramatic and quick surge in energy. This, however, will be very short-lived. When these blood sugar levels drop, so will your energy levels. The erratic fluctuation in blood sugar levels can have both short and long-term adverse effects on your body.
The fluctuations in sugar levels may lead to tiredness and sluggishness, moodiness, and hunger in the short term. That is despite you eating a sugary snack. These effects then create dominos of loss of productivity and contributions to weight gain. In the long-term, your overall health may deteriorate from eating excessive sugar.
Sucrose Becomes Addictive The More You Consume It
Do you ever notice that your overall sugar craving increases proportionally with your overall sugar intake? According to this study, excessive consumption of sucrose increases the levels of dopamine secretion. Now dopamine is a neurotransmitter in your brain’s reward system, which is also affected by drugs like opioids (15).
According to scientists, sucrose and drug abuse elicit similar responses in your body, like rapid absorption. This then causes addictive-like eating behaviors in foods when it comes to foods that are high in sucrose. 500 people who participated in the study were asked to identify foods that triggered addictive-like behaviors. The criteria they were to use were similar to that used in diagnosing substance dependence (15).
Among the 35 foods used in the study, 18 were highly processed, like ice creams, cookies, and chocolate. The 18 foods ranked highly in the list of problematic foods with addictive issues. Also, the participants indicated developing a tolerance to sugar and needing more to get the same effects. This kind of reaction is also observed in drugs and substance abuse (15).
Finally, some participants reported withdrawal symptoms when pulled abruptly from sugar consumption (15). So take great caution when consuming sugar. Keep in mind that the more you take it, the greater your chances of getting hooked are.
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Excessive Sucrose Consumption Can Damage Your Heart
Sucrose doesn’t only expose you to weight gain and obesity. It can also directly put you at risk of cardiovascular diseases. This research published in April 2014 sought to examine the results of a large-scale, long-term nutrition survey on added sugar intake (1).
It was discovered that a majority of adults got 10% or more of their calories from sugar. One-tenth of them consumed 25% or more of their calories from sugar. The mortality data were then examined, and hazard ratios were adjusted. Those who consumed more sugar had a higher risk of death from cardiovascular diseases (1).
There are a few possible explanations on how sugar can affect your heart’s health. According to Havard Health, excess sugar consumption overloads your liver. It is then metabolized, and the extra your body doesn’t need is stored as fat.
Over time, the fat accumulation in your liver leads to fatty liver disease. This disease can cause diabetes which ultimately puts you at risk of heart disease. Also, excessive consumption of sugar causes inflammation which also contributes to heart disease. Yet still, it may be the culmination of all the above health risks that increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
That being said, it’s important to note that when sugar is consumed in moderation, it may have some health benefits. See, your body requires energy to perform and sustain daily physical activities. Sucrose and other sugars are metabolized by your body to provide this constant supply of energy.
Verdict: Sucrose Vs. Fructose, Which Is Healthier?
So it all comes down to fructose vs sucrose and which is the healthier option. While all sugar is harmful to your health when consumed excessively, in this case, fructose may be the less healthy option. Here’s why:
Excess fructose puts an extra burden on your liver since it’s where fructose is converted to energy. This may result in a series of metabolic problems (12). Several studies also show the harmful effects that fructose can have on your body (14).
In this 10-week study, individuals who drank fructose-sweetened beverages exhibited a significant increase in belly fat. This was compared to those who drank glucose-sweetened beverages, who had similar weight gain, but not as visceral fat (4). Additionally, fructose may be associated with higher post-meal levels of your hunger hormone, ghrelin. This will likely make you feel less full after eating (5).
You should, therefore, take great care when consuming fructose. Especially those added in processed foods. Whenever it’s possible, try to substitute fructose from processed foods with those found in fruits. They are healthier and safer.
Sugars can be found in processed foods as added sugars or in fruits and vegetables as naturally occurring sugars. Now, it is not necessary to avoid sugars found in whole food products. This is primarily because the whole package comes with extra nutrients that may counter any negative effects of sugars.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which is better sucrose vs fructose. You always need to limit your consumption of added sugars to stay healthy. If you can’t stop yourself from taking sugars, then go for fruits containing naturally occurring sugars.
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This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on for decision-making. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Added sugar intake and cardiovascular diseases mortality among US adults (2014, pubmed.gov)
- A review of recent evidence relating to sugars, insulin resistance and diabetes (2016, nih.gov)
- A systematic review on the effect of sweeteners on glycemic response and clinically relevant outcomes (2011, nih.gov)
- Consuming fructose-sweetened, not glucose-sweetened, beverages increases visceral adiposity and lipids and decreases insulin sensitivity in overweight/obese humans (2009, pubmed.gov)
- Dietary fructose reduces circulating insulin and leptin, attenuates postprandial suppression of ghrelin, and increases triglycerides in women (2004, pubmed.gov)
- Effect of fructose on glycemic control in diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled feeding trials (2012, pubmed.gov)
- Fructose Consumption in the Development of Obesity and the Effects of Different Protocols of Physical Exercise on the Hepatic Metabolism (2017, nih.gov)
- Fructose toxicity: is the science ready for public health actions? (2013, nih.gov)
- Health Risks of Overweight & Obesity (2018, nih.gov)
- Intestinal sugar transport (2006, pubmed.gov)
- Misconceptions about fructose-containing sugars and their role in the obesity epidemic (2014, nih.gov)
- Normal roles for dietary fructose in carbohydrate metabolism (2014, pubmed.gov)
- Postharvest Physiology and Biochemistry of Fruits and Vegetables (2019, sciencedirect.com)
- Potential role of sugar (fructose) in the epidemic of hypertension, obesity and th metabolic syndrome, diabetes, kidney disease, and cardiovascular disease (2007, pubmed.gov)
- Which Foods May Be Addictive? The Roles of Processing, Fat Content, and Glycemic Load (2015, nih.gov)