Sweetener: "Health" drinks and other products.


Fructose (also called levulose) is a sugar that is a little sweeter than table sugar. Modest amounts of fructose occur naturally in fruits and vegetables, which also contain other sugars. When table sugar is digested, it breaks down into equal amounts of fructose and glucose (dextrose). Another major source of fructose in the typical diet is high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which typically contains about half fructose and half glucose. Fructose itself is used as a sweetener in a small number of foods whose labels often imply, deceptively, that such foods are healthier than competing products that are sweetened with sugar or HFCS.

The fructose that occurs in fruits and vegetables is certainly safe. However, the large amounts that come from added fructose, sucrose (ordinary table sugar), and high-fructose corn syrup increase triglyceride (fat) and small, dense LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels in blood and may thereby increase the risk of heart disease. Also, recent studies show that consuming 25 percent of one's calories from fructose or high-fructose corn syrup (which is about half fructose) leads to more visceral (deep belly) fat or liver fat. Those changes may increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Finally, large amounts consumed on a regular basis also may affect levels of such hormones as leptin and ghrelin, which help regulate appetite, thereby contributing to weight gain and obesity.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (America's basic nutrition policy), American Heart Association, and other health authorities recommend that people consume no more than about 3 to 8 percent of calories in the form of refined sugars. That's far less than the current average of 14 percent of calories. The bottom line: the less added sugars—fructose, dextrose, sucrose, or HFCS—one consumes the better (though, again, small amounts are safe).