Updated: Nov 6, 2019
One of the most important things to understand about sweeteners is that their chemical structure affects the way the body processes and stores them.
The word "fructose" comes from the latin fructus, or fruit. Fructose is mostly found naturally in fruit, but also in other sweeteners such as honey... and more importantly , in high-fructose corn syrup and table sugar.
Some experts think that over-consuming fructose will lead to Type 2 diabetes and other types of metabolic disruption and diseases. The more we consume, the worse it is. Many people even claim we shouldn't eat fruit.
What does the research say?
Based on the most current studies most people should get no more than 50g of added fructose per day. Added fructose includes things like sugar, high fructose corn syrup, juice, honey, and other sweeteners.
Whole foods like fruit don't seem to contribute to the sugar problem because of their fiber, water, and phytonutrient content.
More than 50 g of added fructose, and we start to see problems. Less than that, especially if we're otherwise healthy and active, and we're fine. (some active and healthy people can have more than 50 g daily; usually sedentary people are more at risk for metabolic disruption.)
But what does that mean in reality?
First, the average North American adult gets 20% of their daily energy intake as added sweeteners That means they're eating a lot of processed foods with lots of extra sugar in them.
Second, let's translate 50g of fructose to real foods and drinks.
• A 32 fl ounce of soda sweetened with either high fructose corn syrup or sugar has about 50 g of fructose.
• A 32 fl ounce sports drink has about 22 g of fructose. 1 bag of Skittles would provide another 24 g.
It's especially easy to rack up sugar grams when you drink sweetened beverages. Combine that with other sweetened foods, and the sugar adds up fast. For instance, let's look at what our average North American might eat in a day.
That's 224 g of sugar. If most of that is table sugar, then about half of it (112 g) is fructose.
And that's definitely not an outrageous day of eating in North America. Some people might even consider it healthy. (after all, they chose the Light Frappuccino and the low-fat ice cream.)
However, with whole, minimally processed foods, it's a lot tougher to get that much fructose, or sugar in general.
For instance you would have to eat 11 apples to get that much fructose... or an unimaginably intestinally distressing quantity of red beets.
No matter what sweetener you chose, the real issue is quantity.
If sweeteners - from any source - regularly make up more than 5 to 10% of your diet, that's probably bad news for your health.
Source: Certification Manual The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition - 3rd Edition, Precision Nutrition, By John Berardi, PhD, CSCS