Ask any nutritionist and they’ll tell you: the secret to weight gain lies in the total number of calories consumed. You might have heard of the nutrition professor at Kansas State who lost 27 pounds on the Twinkie Diet. It wasn’t easy; Twinkies aren’t very filling so it can be tempting to give in and have a little protein or fiber to supplement your “junk food diet”… and that’s where the weight gain comes in. He also took a multivitamin and had one protein shake a day, but by keeping his overall caloric intake low, professor Mark Haub was able to fill 2/3 of his diet with “empty calories” and still lose weight.
Many of those empty calories can be attributed to fructose—or most often, to its genetically modified brother, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). But according to a new study released this week, consuming extra fructose in the form of breads or soft drinks or even Twinkies doesn’t necessarily lead to additional weight gain when compared to other types of carbohydrates. The key is that the calories from fructose must be offset somewhere else in the diet in order to avoid weight gain. When participants added a dose of straight fructose to their normal diets, they did gain additional weight.
Researchers have long wondered whether fructose and other high-calorie sweeteners affect the body in ways which cause people to store extra fat or to gain weight disproportionately to other ingredients of equal caloric value. This becomes especially relevant when one considers the ubiquitousness of fructose in everything from cereals to ketchup.
According to the study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, Canadian researchers gathered data on 41 controlled feeding trials which had lasted for at least seven days. 31 of them, involving 637 participants, compared the effect of free fructose and non-fructose carbohydrates in trials involving similar total calories. 10 studies, involving 119 participants were high calorie trials. It’s important to note that the researchers excluded trials that exclusively evaluated high-fructose corn syrup.
The researchers concluded, “Fructose does not seem to cause weight gain when it is substituted for other carbohydrates in diets providing similar calories. Free fructose at high doses that provided excess calories modestly increased body weight, an effect that may be due to the extra calories rather than the fructose.”
“Fructose may not be the villain,” says Cleveland Clinic’s Laura Jeffers, MEd, RD, LD, who reviewed the study for WebMD. “People should be aware of the total calories they’re consuming rather than worrying about one type of sugar.”
If this news sounds kind of obvious, that’s because it is. In an effort to excuse weight gain, the blame had often been placed on fructose. Now thanks to this study, we know that—for weight loss aims at least—it’s okay to have that soda with your meal, but you might want to skip dessert.
Your dentist, on the other hand, might have something else to say about all that sugar.