What everyone needs to know about fructose

Sugar in its many forms can be confusing, but if there’s one to get your head around it’s fructose. You might know fructose as the fruit sugar – I know I certainly used to a few years ago, before I got wise. It helps to understand fructose in a bit of detail, so here are the essentials you need to know (Don’t worry, I’m not going to bombard you with biochemistry here!).

What is fructose?

Fructose is a simple sugar that’s found naturally in fruit and in small amounts in some vegetables. It’s the sugar that makes things taste sweet and it exists as follows:

  • Refined sugar (white stuff on grannie’s shelf) is 50% fructose and 50% glucose
  • fructoseHoney is about 30-40% fructose
  • Agave nectar is a whopping 90% fructose
  • Fruits vary in fructose content. For example, bananas are higher, berries are lower

Fructose is unlike other sugars because it’s processed only by the liver. An excessive amount of fructose going through the liver puts strain on this organ. Our bodies just weren’t designed for the amount of fructose that is so readily available today (think fizzy drinks, 1litre cartons of smoothies and slabs of chocolate!).

The three main problems with fructose

1. It converts to fat & increases unhealthy cholesterol

Excess fructose in the liver converts to fatty acids as energy to be stored, so yes, it can lead to fat storage. This excess also increases bad cholesterol and uric acid. Whether it’s from honey, fruit, refined sources like chocolate, cake & sweets or agave nectar, you need to be conscious of your total fructose consumption.

2. You don’t feel full on fructose

Fructose doesn’t suppress your hunger hormones like other foods so you don’t feel as full on it. It’s why you can gorge or binge on sugar quite easily (now that explains my biscuit dilemma). Whilst fruit contains fructose, it also has fibre which does fill you up. This explains why you can’t eat 3 whole apples and a banana in one go (comfortably at least), but you could quite easily drink them in a juice or smoothie without feeling like a massive bloater.


3. It’s addictive

It’s this sweet sugar fructose that’s addictive. It’s the taste that hits the sweet spot when you’re craving, it releases the feel-good chemical in your brain and it wets your tastebuds for more. You want more and you need more to get the same hit. I know that feeling!

Managing your fructose intake

In your quest for low sugar, be aware that you want to really keep an eye out for the amount of fructose you eat day to day. Our bodies can tolerate a little a day, but not much. Different individuals may have varying sensitivities to fructose. I don’t count fructose grams (way too much hassle), but I’m largely aware of where it is and this is what guides me to eat it in moderation. I generally get my fructose from a few portions of fruit a day, if that.

You can build up a tolerance and taste for fructose. This is where you move towards sugar dependence or the addiction end of the scale. Likewise you can decrease your tolerance gradually reducing or detoxing off fructose.

In a nutshell, it’s important to consider refined sugar and natural fruit together in your daily fructose count and be aware of what it is (which this post should have explained).

I hope this has helped. Hit me if you have any more questions on fructose in the comments below?


Dr Rober Lustig, Sugar: The Bitter Truth (You Tube)

The Skinny on Obesity (Ep.7 ): Drugs Cigarettes Alcohol…Sugar?

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19 replies
  1. Laura
    Laura says:

    Can you give a guideline maximum amount of fruit we should eat per day? I usually have 2-3 pieces but could easily eat 5 – which I know is too much. I have managed to cut out all refined sugar and dried fruit, but can’t quite kick my sugar addiction entirely!!!

    • Laura
      Laura says:

      I would say it’s a personal thing (sorry I know that’s not a definitive answer). I’d say 1-2 or even three (but not three bananas lol). The aim is for colour and variety I’d say to help you keep things interesting. Also I say your cravings should guide your fruit amount. If you’re feeling there a bit too strong or you feel dependant on fruit then pull back a little. Maybe try the odd day with all veg instead? But in summary I’d say 1-3 for the average person (fresh not juiced ideally). Hope that helps Laura?

  2. Claire
    Claire says:

    I replace the majority of my snacks with fruit or raw bars (date-based), and my breakfasts are typically made up of fruit… i.e. for breakfast I might have a banana with < 1 tbsp peanut butter and then a serving of strawberries. I usually can't fit in much more than that so I typically eat a 1/2 of a raw bar later (like Nakd or Kit's Organic).. for snacks after sports practice or just when I get home, I might have an orange and a cup of blueberries.

    Does this seem like it would be too much fructose? I stay away from snacks with added sugars and usually have a tiny piece of dark chocolate after dinner. I'm a little confused because I've never considered too much fruit to be a problem.. From what I've seen from many vegans or just people who are "raw till' 4," none of them are overweight or have any health problems from all the fructose they consume.

    • Laura
      Laura says:

      Hi Claire, thanks for this great comment and questions that I know many others have. Firstly have you read the article I wrote recently on fruit?

      A few points in response to your questions…

      If you’re not craving or feeling out of control with fructose, you’re in the place of having a healthy relationship with it and don’t need to worry too much. I’d ask yourself with all the snacks if you’re really hungry for them or if you are craving the sweet fix? This would indicate a fructose preference. What you’re eating isn’t ‘unhealthy’ in the context of a good diet and exercise, but if things start to increase it’s something to keep an eye on.

      There is no prescribed fructose for one person but just remember when we were cavemen and women, we wouldn’t have had access to so many concentrated date bars and fruit would only be in season. Sometimes these can make you feel more hungry for more sugar or fructose so see if you notice how they impact on your hunger levels.

      Fruit with a decent amount of fibre slows down the absorption of fructose so it doesn’t all hit your liver at once. The fact that you don’t eat refined sugar is very good.

      In terms of the dangers of fructose, weight gain is just one indicator. Chronic fructose exposure is dangerous when it’s prolonged over an extended period of time and it’s not always visible through weight gain or directly associated with health problems. Chances are healthy vegans and raw to 4 will be eating so many vegetables too they may be fighting off the negative effects of too much however I have worked with people here who are equally addicted to sugar and overdoing the fructose. It’s a tricky area and science is early so we just don’t know. The main thing is to just make sure you’re not feeling more ‘addicted’ to fructose and that you’re not dependent on a lot of it.

      Hope that helps and comment if any more questions or if you’re still confused?

      Laura x


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