Latest Health Food in Europe: Fructose

A new health food claim decision by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) will allow food makers to claim a health benefit for fructose. The approved claim reads:

Consumption of foods containing fructose leads to a lower blood glucose rise compared to foods containing sucrose or glucose.

Nutrition and public health experts are upset, to say the least. Such a claim may be technically true, but mislead consumers into thinking that high-sugar products might be good for them, so long as the sugar is fructose. George Bray, a highly respected obesity expert from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, commented:

Assuming that it is correct that manufacturers can substitute up to 30% fructose for glucose or sucrose, it would be a very sad commentary on their review of the literature. The quantity of fructose appearing in the diet is already excessive in my view. Promoting that fructose does not raise glucose as much as other sugars ignores all of the detrimental effects of fructose from whatever source.

Michael Goran of the University of Southern California was even more blunt, saying:

In the long term, excess fructose is more damaging metabolically for the body than other sugars. This opens the door for the beverage and food industry to start replacing sucrose with fructose, which is presumably cheaper. This is a dangerous and problematic issue. There is going to be a big increase in fructose exposure.

The evidence for a benefit for low-glycemic index foods — the basis for this health claim — is shaky to begin with. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) gave it a “C” rating in their latest evidence review. That means that the evidence is either mixed or it comes from poorly controlled studies.

Even when food health claims are based on solid evidence, they can have unintended real world consequences. Remember the low-fat cookies, candies, and such of the 1980s?

It’s hard to imagine anything good coming from this decision.

Click here to read more in the the Guardian, click here to read the ADA’s latest nutrition recommendation for adults with diabetes, and click here to read a perspective on glycemic index.

Corn Harvest Time, photograph © EJP Photo / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.