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Fructose or Glucose? Do different sugars have different health effects?

Over-consumption of either fructose or glucose will lead to weight gain among other health problems

Bronwyn Kingwell Pia Varsamis & Robyn Larsen | The Conversation 

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Photo: Shutterstock

Our recent article published in the Medical Journal of Australia found that Australian and European contained higher concentrations of glucose, and less fructose, than in the United States. The total concentration of Australian was on average 22% higher than in US formulations.

We compared the composition of sugars in four popular, globally marketed brands – Coca-Cola, Fanta, Sprite and Pepsi – using samples from Australia, Europe and the US. While the total sugar concentration did not differ significantly between brands or geographical location, there were differences between countries in the concentrations of particular sugars, even when drinks were marketed under the same trade name.

Sucrose is made up of one molecule and one molecule. from shutterstock.com

Whether these differences have distinct effects on long-term is currently unclear. Certainly, over-consumption of either or will contribute to weight gain, which is associated with a host of health conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. And because the body metabolises and in different ways, their effects may differ.

Sucrose, and fructose

Soft drinks, as they are referred to in Australia, or “sodas” in the US and “fizzy drinks” in the UK, are non-alcoholic, carbonated, sugar-sweetened beverages. Australia ranks seventh out of the top ten countries for soft drink sales per capita.

Sugars are the chief ingredient in and include glucose, and sucrose. The source of sugars in popular varies between global regions. This is because sugars are sourced from different crops in different areas of the world.

in Australia are primarily sweetened with sucrose from sugar cane. Sucrose, often referred to as “table sugar”, is composed of one molecule and one molecule joined by chemical bonds. This means equal amounts of and are released into the bloodstream when sucrose is digested.

Overseas, are sweetened with sucrose-rich sugar beet (Europe) or high-corn syrup (US). High-corn syrup is also made up of and fructose, but contains a higher fructose-to-ratio than sucrose.

Do they have different impacts?

over-consumption is known to contribute to fatty liver disease. Fatty liver disease affects about one in ten people in the West. Non-alcoholic fatty is the leading cause of

Some researchers have suggested too much in the diet can harm the liver in a similar fashion to alcohol. However, this concern is related to added in the diet, not natural sources. Natural sources of fructose, such as fruit, honey and some vegetables, are not generally over-consumed and provide other important nutrients, such as dietary fibre and vitamins. So, fruit does not generally pose a risk for fatty

Natural sources of fructose, such as fruit, are generally not over-consumed. from shutterstock.com

High consumption rapidly elevates blood and insulin. This may affect brain function, including mood and fatigue. Because high blood glucose is linked to diabetes, consumption of high-drinks may also raise the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular (heart) disease.

All are considered energy-dense, nutrient-poor and bad for However, one of the inherent challenges in the field has been an inability to determine the actual dose of or in these drinks.

Studies that follow people over time, and link soft drink consumption to adverse effects, are complicated by not knowing whether individuals in these studies are simply eating too many energy-rich foods, and whether soft drink consumption coincides with other poor behaviours. So, further research is required to determine whether containing different concentrations of and are associated with differing risks.

Soft drink policies

There is still much to learn about the differences in composition of sugars and patterns of soft drink intake between countries. A small number of countries, including Mexico and France, have already implemented taxation on It remains to be determined whether these actions reduce the incidence of obesity, diabetes and heart diseases.

Over-consumption of any kind of sugar leads to from shutterstock.com

Australian policymakers are yet to take action to reduce soft drink consumption. A range of intervention strategies have been considered, including banning sugary in schools and hospitals, taxation, and regulating beverage marketing.

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The ConversationThe New South Wales Health Department has just announced sugary drinks will be phased out of vending machines, cafes and catering services in the state’s facilities by December. This is a great move. Importantly, we must continue to increase public awareness of the adverse effects of sugary


Bronwyn Kingwell, Head, Metabolic and Vascular Physiology NHMRC, Senior Principal Research Fellow, Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute; Pia Varsamis, PhD Student, Metabolic and Vascular Physiology, Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, and Robyn Larsen, Postdoctural Research Fellow in Nutritional Biochemistry, Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation

First Published: Mon, June 12 2017. 09:32 IST
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