The June Nutrition Society Paper of the Month is from Nutrition Research Reviews and is entitled “Misconceptions about fructose-containing sugars and their role in the obesity epidemic”.

In the past years, both scientific literature and other media have dispersed numerous misconceptions about the relation between specific food components and negative health outcomes. Sugar, for example, has often been suggested to be toxic and is scapegoated for its role in the increased obesity rates. Overconsumption of sugar is not the only cause of obesity, however, merely one of several causes. By disseminating common fallacies about fructose-containing sugars and their effect on metabolism and health, public health officials can take appropriate steps based on fact rather than fiction.

Results of the literature review in the study, the literature on the relationship between sugar consumption and obesity was reviewed, with a specific focus on the role of fructose and sugar-sweetened beverages. Often in the form of sucrose, sugar is a substantial part of the Western diet. The increased consumption of these and other sugars, including high-fructose corn syrup, corresponds with weight gain. As a result, it was assumed that there was a causal relationship between the intake of fructose and the obesity epidemic. However, the existing research results were often misinterpreted and, as such, serious misconceptions exist about fructose and fructose-containing sugars. As it happens, high-fructose corn syrup is not much different than ‘regular’ sugar (sucrose). Moreover, many studies administered extremely high doses of pure fructose – over 20% of the total caloric intake. The undesirable effects on satiation, hormone levels and insulin sensitivity are not present when fructose is consumed in lower amounts and in combination with glucose, as is almost always the case.

Implications for public health to combat obesity, it is important to look at the intake of both fructose and sugar. For public health recommendations, however, it is much more important to examine the total amount of added carbohydrates, fats, proteins and dietary fibre that make up energy intake. Although the available evidence indicates that 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.

This paper is freely available for one month via the following link: journals.cambridge.org/ns/june14

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