Does fructose cause high blood pressure?

fructose connection?

Fructose: ticking time bomb or benign fruit sugar?  These days we get both arguments from all directions.  The truth, as usual, is somewhere in the middle.  The hysteria started with soft drink companies, who figured out some time ago that sweetening their products with corn syrup was a whole lot cheaper, because (1) corn syrup is cheaper and (2) because it’s sweeter, they could use slightly less of it, leading to even more $avings.  And so we arrived at the current state of affairs: a country guzzling vast amounts of syrup-sweetened soft drinks every day.  The name of the syrup reads “High Fructose Corn Syrup”, so immediately everyone assumes this stuff is dramatically higher in fructose than regular table sugar.  It’s not.*  Honey is actually much higher in fructose, but I don’t see any mass hysteria over the evils of honey.  In fact, quite the opposite. But we don’t talk about High Fructose Honey, so honey avoids the bad PR.  Also, honey is expensive and isn’t used extensively as a sweetener in food products.

PR problems aside, there is mounting evidence that fructose intake – whatever the source of added sweetener* – is linked to metabolic syndrome, that all-purpose chronic disease state afflicting tens of millions of people, increasing risk for hypertension, Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease and so forth.  Some recent research looked specifically at fructose intake from added sugars and hypertension.  Conclusion: increasing intake above a level of about 2-1/2 soft drinks/day was linked to risk for higher and higher blood pressure.  The same research group speculated that fructose has unique effects on kidney function that could contribute to this increased risk, specifically related to the effect on uric acid production.

Another more recent study came to similar conclusions.  Sugared beverage consumption and blood pressure were compared, and results showed that every extra can of sweetened drinks consumed per day led to higher blood pressure.  It also led to higher calorie intake, and the people with the highest soft drink consumption had the worst diet quality and also the highest salt intake.  So was it the salt?  The fructose plus salt?  The generally bad diet?  Bad diet plus other lifestyle factors that go hand-in-hand with poor dietary choices?  Those questions weren’t answered.

They’re worth asking though.  Diets high in processed foods that are loaded with added sugars and sodium, tend to have few vegetables, fruits and whole grains, which provide potassium, a key nutritional player in blood pressure regulation, along with other anti-metabolic syndrome nutrients like fiber, anti-oxidants, minerals and vitamins.

So the best advice is: stop drinking so many sugary soft drinks, whether they’re sweetened with sugar, corn syrup, agave, honey or whatever.  If they’re sweet, they contain fructose at some level.  They’re empty calories.  They have no place in a healthy diet.  They serve no purpose.  If you’re thirsty, drink water.  You’ll automatically be cutting both fructose and empty calories, covering all your bases in the fructose-hypertension debate.

Cut out fruit?  No.  Fresh fruit is loaded with nutrients and fiber, and has far less fructose than any soft drink.  Fruit is digested much more slowly than liquid soft drinks, so the little fructose there is in a piece of fruit takes longer to be absorbed and metabolized.

* Table sugar: 50% fructose; HFCS: 55% fructose; honey: 60% fructose; agave syrup: 55-97% fructose (Yikes!).

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  1. […] lower glycemic index.  The glycemic index does not measure how much fat is absorbed, nor how much fructose is absorbed.  Since most commercial ice creams are sweetened with corn syrup, more than half the […]

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