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Over-emphasis on fructose obscures larger science-based message: too much of any sugar is bad for you


2 Star


Fructose May Increase Cravings for High-Calorie Foods

Our Review Summary

sugarThe story reports that a study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) found that people who consume fructose were more likely to crave high-calorie foods than people who consumed glucose. The conclusion of the story is that the type of sugar one consumes can influence one’s food cravings. The story does a pretty good job of describing the mechanics of the research and what the investigators found. But the story did not place the work in context by discussing other research on neuroscience and sugar consumption. And the key shortcoming in the story is that it does not address a core issue — how people might (or might not) be able to take action on such findings.


Why This Matters

The United States has an obesity problem. According to the CDC, 34.9 percent or (78.6 million) U.S. adults are obese. For an adult, this is defined as having a body mass index greater than 30. For a five foot nine inch adult, that means weighing more than 203 pounds. And 17 percent (or 12.7 million) of U.S. kids between the ages of 2 and 19 are obese. Research that can help people make informed decisions about their diet and reduce their caloric intake to healthy levels can make a significant difference in reducing obesity — which increases a host of health risks, from cardiovascular problems to diabetes. If people can make food choices that are still satisfying but result in less craving for additional high calorie foods, that could prove a useful substitution.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

It’s hard to assess cost in this situation — there is no specific medication or treatment to put a price tag on. We’ll give this a “Not Applicable.”

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The story reports that avoiding fructose may curtail cravings for high-calorie foods. But it never quantifies this finding. For example, the story says, “When choosing between tasty high-calorie food or a delayed monetary reward, fructose drinkers were more likely than glucose drinkers to choose the food.” What amount of money are we talking about? How much more likely? How was this measured? We thought the story needed some numbers to earn a Satisfactory rating on quantification.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The description of the study was very clear if lacking in some important details as noted above. The story noted the size of the study (24 participants), the fact that all of the participants were healthy, and appeared to adequately describe the methodology of the study.

But what’s lacking here is any comment on the real-world applicability of findings that didn’t involve real-world conditions. For example, the story says: “The type of sugar you eat may affect your cravings for high-calorie foods,” and it identifies fructose as the problematic sugar. This is based on a study that gave participants pure fructose and pure glucose, which in the real world are almost never consumed in their pure form. The major types of sugars we consume — e.g. sucrose (table sugar), high-fructose corn syrup, and honey — are all combinations of fructose and glucose in varying but roughly equal amounts. So which of these sugars is it that people should avoid based on this research? The story makes it clear that people shouldn’t avoid fruit, which is a good message. But most readers will probably assume the story is advocating against high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). That’s a problem, because HFCS is just one of several sources of dietary fructose. In fact, one of the two most widely-used types of high-fructose corn syrup, so-called HFCS 42, is only 42 percent fructose (which is less fructose than in table sugar). Without further explanation and context, readers could easily come away from this story thinking that HFCS is the bad guy, whereas the take home message from considerable research is that too much of any added sugar is not healthy.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


No disease mongering here.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

The story cites only one source, and clearly notes that the source is an author of the relevant study. However, the story lacked an independent expert to put the work in context. This story badly needed that context to give us a sense of how important this work might be, and what similar work may have been done in this area. For example, maybe the cues for people to eat junk/high-calorie foods are so strongly triggered by other behavioral patterns that making substitutions of sugars in processed foods won’t matter anyway.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The story does not address any other techniques for controlling food cravings. It also doesn’t talk about other treatments for obesity such as nutritional education, behavioral support, group work, etc

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

The story does not address how this fits into the context of previous work that examines sugars, diet and food cravings or behavior. Is it consistent with earlier findings? Is this the first time anyone has asked this specific question? How does it differ from previous work? The story doesn’t tell us.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?


The story does not draw from any news release that we could find. It appears to include original reporting from an interview with one of the study authors.

Total Score: 2 of 7 Satisfactory


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