Fructose and Fruit Juice

When I work with clients to support health nutritionally I generally incorporate two approaches simultaneously:

1.The removal from the diet of any foods which may be unhelpful for an individual.

2. To add into the diet nutrient-rich foods to provide the necessary vitamins, minerals, amino acids etc. to optimally fuel all the various body systems. This might also include the careful and calculated inclusion of certain nutritional supplements, depending on the needs of the individual.

Returning to consider the first point – the removal of unhelpful foods from the diet – we find that this falls into two main categories. Firstly, there are the foods which may be unhelpful for a specific client – either in the long or short-term. For example it may be beneficial to remove gluten, or wheat, or the nightshade family of vegetables from the diet to help encourage health. This sort of exclusion is considered on a client to client basis, depending on the health of their digestive system, presenting symptoms and nutritional status.

The second category however is more general. It is the avoiding of foods that are so far removed from their original state, so refined, so treated, so processed, that they offer no nutritional value in encouraging optimal health. Into this category the family of processed sugars firmly falls and whilst many would not dispute this, the emerging research regarding the unhelpful role that fruit sugar (fructose) may be playing in the health conditions of the West, is increasingly emerging. Alex Renton, in his article The Demon Drink:war on sugar, comments on this further:

Many scientists have marked fructose as the ring leader in the team of monosaccharides. Lustig, who likes to turn a phrase, calls it the Voldemort of sugars – and it is biggest in the sugar load of soft drinks.

A 240ml glass of orange juice might contain 120 calories of sugar, or sucrose; half of that will be fructose. The fructose will all end up in the liver, which may not be able to metabolise (process) it fully, depleting vital chemicals in the organ and turning into fat. “It’s not about the calories,” says Dr Lustig. “It has nothing to do with the calories. It’s a poison by itself.”

What is undeniable is that problems in the liver in turn contaminate and disable other systems, including the insulin production of the pancreas. The effects are felt ultimately in the heart, the immune system and by producing cancers. Insulin resistance may also be a player in dementia.


“Fructose can fry your liver and cause all the same diseases as alcohol,” Dr Lustig continues. Key to the obesity debate is the charge that high insulin levels interfere with the hormone leptin, which is a signalling device that tells the brain when we’ve consumed enough. So you drink or eat fructose, and then you want more food. Sugary soft drinks deliver the fructose fastest to the organs that can’t handle it. And, of course, they are largely consumed by those most vulnerable to diseases: the poor and the young. For children, every extra daily serving above the average increases the chances of obesity by 60% .

Sarah Boseley continues this thought in her article Smoothies and Fruit Juices are a New Risk to Health:

In the UK, Coca-Cola owns Innocent smoothies while PepsiCo has Tropicana. Launching Tropicana smoothies in 2008, Pepsi’s sales pitch was that the drink would help the nation to reach its five a day fruit and vegetable target. “Smoothies are one of the easiest ways to boost daily fruit intake as each 250ml portion contains the equivalent of 2 fruit portions,” it said at the time.

However, Popkin says the five a day advice needs to change. Drink vegetable juice, he says, but not fruit juice. “Think of eating one orange or two and getting filled,” he said. “Now think of drinking a smoothie with six oranges and two hours later it does not affect how much you eat. The entire literature shows that we feel full from drinking beverages like smoothies but it does not affect our overall food intake, whereas eating an orange does. So pulped-up smoothies do nothing good for us but do give us the same amount of sugar as four to six oranges or a large coke. It is deceiving.”

Nine years ago the two scientists had identified sugar-sweetened soft drinks, full of calories and consumed between meals, as a major cause of soaring obesity in developed countries. But they argue that as people change their drinking habits to avoid carbonated soft drinks, the potential damage from naturally occurring fructose in fruit juices and smoothies is being overlooked.

All sugars are equal in their bad effects, says Popkin – even those described on cereal snack bars sold in health food shops as containing “completely natural” sweeteners. “The most important issue about added sugar is that everybody thinks it’s cane sugar or maybe beet sugar or HFC syrup or all the other syrups but globally the cheapest thing on the market almost is fruit juice concentrate coming out of China. It has created an overwhelming supply of apple juice concentrate. It is being used everywhere and it also gets around the sugar quotas that lots of countries have.”

So what should we be drinking?! Water is the forgotten jewel when it comes to keeping hydrated. All the time we are drinking and eating sweet foods and fruit juice our taste buds become accustomed to the sweetness, making plain water seem bland. It might take up to 4 weeks to re-educate taste buds, but after that time of avoiding sweetened foods, many find a new enjoyment in the taste of natural foods, and this can include water. It is a good idea to use a quality water filter, and for carrying water around with you, a BPA bottle such as the Bobble is helpful and a novelty for children.

If children are already used to drinking fruit juice it is a good idea to begin to water it down, gradually adding more water as they grow accustomed to less sweetness. If you want to make that glass of water a little more interesting try adding a slice of lemon or lime, a slice or two of cucumber, and a sprig of mint. Keeping a glass bottle of filtered water ready-chilled in the fridge is much more inviting than luke-warm water from the tap.