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New analysis says fructose isn't so bad... or maybe not

A recently published review of 41 studies aims to deflect attention away from fructose as an obesity contributor. Is fructose the weight-gain demon it's made out to be?

A new review of 41 studies, with conclusions published in Annals of Internal Medicine, seems to imply that the obesity epidemic isn’t as affected by fructose as popularly believed and reported. Fructose, particularly high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), has been targeted as a major contributor to obesity, but according to the researchers (a team that includes David Jenkins, MD, PhD, DSc, who developed the glycemic index), it isn’t fructose but rather “excessive calories” that should really shoulder the blame.

But dig a little deeper and you start to wonder: What exactly is being said here?

“This is not really a new study, as reported by the press,” says Robert Rountree, MD, Delicious Living’s medical editor. “Rather, it’s a meta-analysis of previous trials. This means that the researchers picked the trials that they believed were worthy of inclusion and left out those that didn't meet their criteria. It is well-known that meta-analyses reflect the biases of the individuals who compile the data.  Most notably, they excluded studies that involved high-fructose corn syrup!”

Studies involved people who ate the same amount of calories but from fructose or other carbs; no effect on weight was noted. Other studies followed people who added fructose to their regular diet versus those who didn’t; no surprise, the first group gained weight.

Even the researchers themselves admit that the studies they included have serious flaws, so their conclusions can’t be considered, well, conclusive.

So why publish this half-baked analysis at all?

To me, it seems like a rather lame effort to deflect attention away from fructose and HFCS that are added to foods (rather than naturally occurring fructose in fruit, for example) and instead get people to start talking about general calories (“any energy-dense substance”).

“Doesn't make sense, does it?” muses Rountree. “Makes me wonder if some pressure was being applied by the food companies that make fructose. I also think it is was a big mistake not to look at all the other detrimental effects of added fructose, such as increased insulin resistance and fatty liver.  For those reasons, I still believe that the 'weight' of evidence is against using either fructose or HFCS as an added sweetener.”

What do you think of fructose and this latest "study?" Share in the comments.

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