April 21, 2009 -- New research shows big differences in how the sugars fructose and glucose are metabolized by the body. But the findings have little relevance to the current debate about whether high-fructose corn syrup is a bigger dietary villain than other sugars added to processed foods, experts say.
Both groups gained weight during the 10-week study, but the fructose group gained more of the dangerous belly fat that has been linked to a higher risk for heart attack and stroke.
The study showed clear differences in how fructose and glucose are metabolized by the body, nutrition researcher and principal investigator Peter J. Havel, PhD, of the University of California at Davis tells WebMD.
But the findings do not show that high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), used in everything from soft drinks to cereals in the U.S., is worse for your health than other added sugars.
That's because despite the name, high-fructose corn syrup is chemically similar to other widely used sweeteners, including table sugar (sucrose), honey, and even sweeteners made from concentrated fruit juices.
All contain glucose and fructose in roughly equal amounts. The high-fructose corn syrup used in most soft drinks and other sweetened beverages in the U.S. contains about 55% fructose and 45% glucose, compared to the 50/50 fructose-glucose ratio found in table sugar.
"Any added sugar used as an alternative to high-fructose corn syrup would have a similar chemical composition," University of Cincinnati obesity researcher Matthias H. Tschop, MD, tells WebMD. "While it is possible that there are differences in how these sugars affect metabolic pathways, I know of no studies that show this."
But Tschop says the newly reported study is an important step forward in understanding the metabolic impact of glucose and fructose, even if the real-world public health implications are less clear.