The Role of Fructose, Sucrose and High-fructose Corn Syrup in Diabetes

Eur Endocrinol. 2014 Feb;10(1):51-60. doi: 10.17925/EE.2014.10.01.51. Epub 2014 Feb 28.


Concerns are growing regarding the role of dietary sugars in the development of obesity and cardiometabolic diseases, including diabetes. High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and sucrose are the most important dietary sweeteners. Both HFCS and sucrose have overlapping metabolic actions with adverse effects attributed to their fructose moiety. Ecological studies have linked the rise in fructose availability with the increases in obesity and diabetes worldwide. This link has been largely underpinned by animal models and select human trials of fructose overfeeding at high levels of exposure. Although prospective cohort studies have shown significant associations comparing the highest with the lowest levels of intake sugar-sweetened beverages, these associations are small, do not hold at moderate levels of intake and are subject to collinearity effects from related dietary and lifestyle factors. Most systematic reviews and meta-analyses from controlled feeding trials have shown that fructose-containing sugars in isocaloric exchange for other carbohydrates do not show evidence of harm and, in the case of fructose, may even have advantages for glycaemic control, especially at small doses. Nevertheless, trials in which fructose-containing sugars supplement diets with excess energy have shown adverse effects, effects that appear more attributable to the excess energy than the sugar. There is no unequivocal evidence that fructose intake at moderate doses is directly related with adverse metabolic effects, although there is potentially cause for concern where fructose is provided at high doses or contributes excess energy to diets. Further investigation is warranted due to the significant knowledge gaps and weaknesses in existing research.

Keywords: Diabetes; fructose; high-fructose corn syrup; sucrose.

Publication types

  • Review

Grant support

Support: The publication of this article was supported by The Coca-Cola Company. The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors.