Fructose is healthy – says Company X

I have recently discovered a product that falls into the sweet treats category, and that I like very much. Unfortunately it is full of fructose, so I guess unless they change this I won’t have it anymore. What I wanted to talk here about though is more how companies can get is so wrong – and how they can make outrageous marketing claims that might well backfire on them in due course.

I won’t say by the what the product or the company is – I am not intending to out them, and I hope they do get their act together. Also I want to give them the benefit of the doubt – the health issues with fructose are not in the mainstream, and maybe this all can be blamed on an over-eager marketing department rather than on the company (which is a small start-up, not one of the majors) being evil.

Anyway, according to the information on their website, 100g of the product contains between 14-19g of sugar, depending on the flavor. I is sweetened with agave nectar, and – again based in information on their website – this is of the 90% fructose / 10% glucose variety. I have DM’d with them, and I understand that their serving size are 140/210/350/630g, leading for fructose levels per serving of 17/26/44/79g for the low-sugar flavors, and about 35% more for the other ones. On top of this there is also some glucose, but this is de minimis.

From Mark Sisson’s “Primal Blueprint” (Kindle location about 3509)

Fructose has long been considered a superior sweetener to table sugar, since it […] generates a lower insuline response (fructose must be converted into glucose in the liver before it can be utilized […]).

It has been well established that HFCS [High Fructose Corn Syrup] is even more lipogenic (fat-promoting) than glucose. […] Diets high in HFCS have been shown to […] contribute to the development of serious health problems like type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and non-alcoholic fatty-liver syndrome.

And more (location 3521)

Many health conscious consumer believe that honey or agave nectar are superior alternatives. Unfortunately, honey has a similar effect on blood sugar levels as table sugar, while agave has a higher fructose concentration than even HFCS […]. There is not free ride here.

Gary Taubes in “Why we get fat” seems even more negative about fructose. I will only pick the most pertinent quote here (Kindle location about 2218):

In the case of low-fat yogurts for example, they replace much of the fat removed with high fructose corn syrup. We think we’re eating a heart-healthy, low-fat snack that will lead to weight loss. Instead, we get fatter because of the added carbo-hydrates and fructose

Now I am the first one to admit that this view is certainly not the mainstream view, so everyone – Company X included – can feel free to dismiss it. But promoting it with a slogan like “using only the […] healthiest ingredients” I would say is a bit far fetched, given that views expressed above about fructose.

UPDATE: There is timely article on Mother Jones’ (ht DrEades) blog with the following quote:

Lustig recommends that the average adult consume no more than 50 grams of fructose per day—about five Mrs. Field’s chocolate-chip cookies—and preferably not all at once. A 20-ounce soda containing 37.5 grams of fructose is “going to be a shock to the liver if you drink it all in one sitting,” he says.

It also does not seem the smartest thing to do, as it makes them vulnerable. My advice to potential competitors would be: if you want to enter their market, hire Gary Taubes or anyone else who at length talks about the health risks of fructose, and who in particular point out that HFCS only contains 55% fructose, whilst agave nectar contains 90%.

So finally my advice to the company: you have a great product – apart from the fructose. Try to find a way around it – agave nectar sounds nice, but IMHO – and in the opinion of others more knowledgable than me – it isn’t. And if you keep using fructose, please at least tone down the “Product X is so healthy” marketing campaign. With all those differing views around it just does not look honest, even if you yourselves truly believe in your product (and I have no reason to doubt that!).

13 thoughts on “Fructose is healthy – says Company X

  1. nonsense article – you have no idea about Agave and fructose but just read something produced by the sugar manufacturers. If you are going to blog then do your research well as it makes you look bad

    • Actually, both authors he quoted are strongly against consuming sugar, which would be in direct conflict with the interests of sugar manufacturers. Do you have any specific criticisms of his discussion of fructose and/or agave nectar? A simple search on fructose results in the following information: “The medical profession thinks fructose is better for diabetics than sugar,” says Meira Field, Ph.D., a research chemist at United States Department of Agriculture, “but every cell in the body can metabolize glucose. However, all fructose must be metabolized in the liver. The livers of the rats on the high fructose diet looked like the livers of alcoholics, plugged with fat and cirrhotic.”

  2. @Jane: Would you mind explaining yourself a bit more? From your comment it seems that you believe that (a) fructose (and in particular agave sirup) is good for your health, and that (b) Mark Sisson’s and Gary Taubes’ respective books have been “produced by the sugar manufacturers”. Is this what you intended to say?

    Also, if you have any references that would be relevant I would be keen to learn about them. Thanks.

  3. Pingback: Mark Sisson's books produced by the sugar industry? | Mark's Daily Apple Health and Fitness Forum page

  4. Interesting. You guys are pretty hard core. I’m sure even with a little HFCS, you probably still have a healthier diet than 90% of the world.

    • Trying hard :-). HFCS is actually not that much of a problem in Europe because there is no strong corn lobby. So the sugar here is mainly made from cane or beets which is the usual saccharose. Still sugar though…

  5. Thor, I’ve got a sweet tooth myself, but am trying to stay pretty low-carb (under 100 g/day). So I sometimes turn to non-caloric artificial sweeteners like Splenda. Not at all paleo, but satisfies my sweet tooth.

    • Steve, that is interesting. Obviously all sweeteners, sugary or not, involve compromises, there is no free lunch here. I would be keen to hear your opinion as an expert which sweeteners are better than others (keeping in mind that none are great), and whether you should go for one of them only, or rather cycle amongst your favorites (Ie the least bad ones…)

  6. I’ve never done a comprehensive review of the artificial sweeteners, so my opinion isn’t worth much. I use Splenda (sucralose) for baking. I’ve read that erythritol is good, too. I see no harm in my drinking 1-2 diet sodas a day, if I want. Usually don’t. They typically have aspartame (phenylketonuria is a contra-indication).

  7. I would have to disagree with you Steve – in your first post you say that erythritol is good too (as well as splenda) – splenda contains the extremely controversial aspartame and I would rather have a natural plant that has been used for thousands of years over a chemical man-made sweetener. I think if you look into it in more detail you may agree!

  8. Pingback: Healthy fruits – Fructose edition | Thor Falk

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