Food sources of fructose-containing sugars and glycaemic control: systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled intervention studies

BMJ. 2018 Nov 21;363:k4644. doi: 10.1136/bmj.k4644.


Objective: To assess the effect of different food sources of fructose-containing sugars on glycaemic control at different levels of energy control.

Design: Systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled intervention studies.

Data sources: Medine, Embase, and the Cochrane Library up to 25 April 2018.

Eligibility criteria for selecting studies: Controlled intervention studies of at least seven days' duration and assessing the effect of different food sources of fructose-containing sugars on glycaemic control in people with and without diabetes were included. Four study designs were prespecified on the basis of energy control: substitution studies (sugars in energy matched comparisons with other macronutrients), addition studies (excess energy from sugars added to diets), subtraction studies (energy from sugars subtracted from diets), and ad libitum studies (sugars freely replaced by other macronutrients without control for energy). Outcomes were glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c), fasting blood glucose, and fasting blood glucose insulin.

Data extraction and synthesis: Four independent reviewers extracted relevant data and assessed risk of bias. Data were pooled by random effects models and overall certainty of the evidence assessed by the GRADE approach (grading of recommendations assessment, development, and evaluation).

Results: 155 study comparisons (n=5086) were included. Total fructose-containing sugars had no harmful effect on any outcome in substitution or subtraction studies, with a decrease seen in HbA1c in substitution studies (mean difference -0.22% (95% confidence interval to -0.35% to -0.08%), -25.9 mmol/mol (-27.3 to -24.4)), but a harmful effect was seen on fasting insulin in addition studies (4.68 pmol/L (1.40 to 7.96)) and ad libitum studies (7.24 pmol/L (0.47 to 14.00)). There was interaction by food source, with specific food sources showing beneficial effects (fruit and fruit juice) or harmful effects (sweetened milk and mixed sources) in substitution studies and harmful effects (sugars-sweetened beverages and fruit juice) in addition studies on at least one outcome. Most of the evidence was low quality.

Conclusions: Energy control and food source appear to mediate the effect of fructose-containing sugars on glycaemic control. Although most food sources of these sugars (especially fruit) do not have a harmful effect in energy matched substitutions with other macronutrients, several food sources of fructose-containing sugars (especially sugars-sweetened beverages) adding excess energy to diets have harmful effects. However, certainty in these estimates is low, and more high quality randomised controlled trials are needed.

Study registration: (NCT02716870).

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Beverages
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / metabolism*
  • Dietary Sugars*
  • Fasting
  • Fructose*
  • Fruit
  • Fruit and Vegetable Juices
  • Glycated Hemoglobin A / metabolism*
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Honey
  • Humans
  • Insulin / metabolism


  • Blood Glucose
  • Dietary Sugars
  • Glycated Hemoglobin A
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Insulin
  • hemoglobin A1c protein, human
  • Fructose

Associated data