What’s the public health effect of a health claim for fructose?

By Caroline SCOTT-THOMAS contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Sugar

EFSA says fructose leads to a lower blood glucose rise...but also may lead to metabolic complications
EFSA says fructose leads to a lower blood glucose rise...but also may lead to metabolic complications
The EU recently approved a health claim for fructose – but the EFSA opinion also included a health warning. So could the positive health claim lead to negative health outcomes?

Industry has welcomed​ the recent publication of a health claim for fructose, which backs the sweetener’s beneficial effect on blood sugar levels, when compared to regular sugar (sucrose) or glucose.

Specifically, companies can claim: “Consumption of foods containing fructose leads to a lower blood glucose rise compared to foods containing sucrose or glucose”.

However, there have been numerous studies linking fructose with negative health impacts, and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) acknowledged these in its scientific opinion too, warning that “high intakes of fructose may lead to metabolic complications such as dyslipidaemia, insulin resistance and increased visceral adiposity”.

Health claim seduction…

The European Heart Network is among those who are sceptical that there could be any public health benefit from the fructose health claim.

“In the case of fructose, there is a risk that a “positive” claim may have negative health effects if it leads to increased energy intake because people are seduced by the claim,”​ EHN director Susanne Logstrup told FoodNavigator. “High intake of fructose may lead to metabolic complications, including dyslipidaemia and insulin resistance. Whether this will be the outcome, remains to be seen, of course.”

She added: “EHN’s view is that claims should only be allowed if they have a public health benefit. If they do not, we do not see the value of them – even if there is no obvious negative public health impact.”

So how did the positive end up outweighing the negative?

EFSA says its role is to provide information to European risk managers at the Commission, Parliament and Member States – but it is not involved in the regulatory process that takes place based on its opinions.

“So, the authorisation for the use of health claims (including the final conditions of use and any restriction of use) is ultimately under the remit of the European Commission and the Member States,”​ an EFSA spokesperson said.

As for the European Commission, it says the decision to approve the claim was conditional on replacing other sugars with fructose, and according to EFSA’s opinion, the panel assumed that the target population was individuals who wished to reduce their post-prandial glycaemic responses.

A spokesperson for the Commission said: “Therefore, it does not encourage the intake of fructose in the general population as such but instead it targets people who are already consumers of sugars."

For the time being, the Commission says the effects of the claim will be closely followed on the request of some Member States, who asked that the Commission pay attention to the evolution of fructose intakes following authorisation of the claim.

If necessary, it will consider whether EFSA needs to provide more scientific advice in relation to the claim, depending on evolving scientific knowledge and whether there is a dramatic rise in fructose consumption. 

Excessive intakes

The Commission spokesperson added: “Any of the possible adverse effects that have been reported could be caused only at consumption levels that would largely exceed the reference intakes of sugars.”

Indeed, the research cited by EFSA in its opinion involves very high levels of fructose consumption. While the UK’s Department of Health recommends that no more than 10% of a person’s daily energy should come from added sugars of any kind, in one cited study​, mice were fed a diet with fructose meeting 25% of their energy needs.

All of the studies cited involve consumption of fructose at levels that far exceed recommendations for all added sugars.

Nevertheless, Europeans tend to consume more added sugars than the recommended maximum and the EFSA report cites plenty of research suggesting that excessive consumption of fructose may be more harmful in some ways than other kinds of sugar – although, within limits, it is less harmful when it comes to causing blood glucose spikes.

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3 comments

wisdom of Nature

Posted by Dr. Rick Kozlenko,

All fruits , vegetables, botanicals as well as the metabolism of animal forms, contain and utilize small amounts of fructose --Nature for the past billions of years is not stupid--there is a reason.
In small amounts, along with natural fiber and antioxidants as found in botanicals, its part of a composition recommended as "ideal" in an optimal diet. The key is EXCESS consumption of nude sugars--this happens easily with modern convenience and processed food diets. High circulating insulin along with high blood sugar is the most health treacherous combination capable of being largely managed with an intelligent and heavy vegan oriented diet.

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Fructose Not to Blame for Obesity

Posted by Allison Cooke,

Pure crystalline fructose, which would replace glucose or sucrose, is not high-fructose corn syrup. It is sweeter than glucose and sucrose so less would need to be added to the products to mimic the sweetness. Since less would need to be added, the caloric content of the product would be reduced. Obesity is multi-faceted and it is incorrect to assume that one ingredient can be blamed for the obesity epidemic.

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Sugar consumption already exceeding limits by far

Posted by Michael Timber,

Quote: "The Commission spokesperson added: “Any of the possible adverse effects that have been reported could be caused only at consumption levels that would largely exceed the reference intakes of sugars.”"

=>This statement is flat wrong. Currently typical levels of sugar consumption are already twice and more of what the WHO recommends as an upper limit (max. 50g/day) and hence adverse health effects of fructose are already rampant.

See eg. Aeberli (2013): Moderate amounts of fructose consumption impair insulin sensitivity in healthy young men: a randomized controlled trial. Diabetes Care. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22933433

Therefore, the EU health claim for fructose is outrageous and should be withdrawn before it comes into effect.

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