Fructose: Friend or foe to your waistline?

Naturopath Dr David Jivan explains the downside of too much ‘fruit sugar’ in our diet.

Sugar is made up of two components – glucose and fructose.

Glucose is present in virtually all naturally occurring sweet foods, while fructose occurs naturally in fruit, honey and some vegetables.

The major difference between the two, says Dr Jivan, is that glucose can be broken down by just about every cell in our body.

Fructose, meanwhile, can only be broken down only by our liver.

In a typical western diet – where the main sources of fructose are from processed foods and drinks containing sugar derived from sugar cane or sugar beet – that can lead to problems.

“When you consume excessive amounts of fructose and your body can’t break it down it forms free fatty acids, which are like little droplets of fats that then deposit in your liver and can lead to Type 2 diabetes and or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease,” Dr Jivan says.

If you have fructose malabsorption you need to keep your fructose intake to less than 25g a day. That’s three to six bananas or two to three apples.

What is fructose malabsorption?

Up to one in three of us also experience a common condition known as fructose malabsorption or “dietary fructose intolerance” (DTI), which occurs when cells on the surface of the intestines can’t break down fructose efficiently.

“This can result in an increased concentration of fructose in the entire intestine, which can lead to bloating, discomfort and other issues,” Dr Jivan says.

“According to analysis of clinical trials evaluating fructose intake, 25-40g of fructose per day is totally safe.

“However if you have fructose malabsorption you need to keep your fructose intake to less than 25g a day. That’s three to six bananas or two to three apples per day.”

fructose fruit

How to cut down on fructose in your diet

Dr Jivan says those watching their weight and anyone with fructose malabsorption and irritable bowel symptom should avoid high-fructose fruits like apples, cherries, mangoes, watermelon and pears, which can lead to bloating.

Low-fructose fruit, including honeydew melon, cantaloupe, bananas, blueberries, strawberries and oranges, can be eaten in moderate amounts.

Dr David Jivan’s tips for limiting fructose intake:

  1. Firstly, stop juicing and relying on that as your fruit intake source: “Eat fruits whole as the fibre in the fruit delays the release of the fructose in your body and allows for the liver to best metabolise it.”.
  2. Instead of sending your kids to school with juices, give them water and whole or chopped up fruits for snacks.
  3. Try to avoid corn syrup and HFCS (high fructose corn syrup), both of which are added sugars in your diet.
  4. Also avoid agave and don’t be fooled into thinking it is a good alternative to table sugar.

Catch up on the full episode of The House of Wellness TV show to see more from Zoe, Ed, and the team and get more advice from Dr David Jivan.