Fructose vs Sucrose: How They Compare Nutritionally

With so many different types of sugar, it can be overwhelming to understand how different sugars vary and whether certain types of sugar are better for you than others.

Sucrose and fructose are two common sugars that are often mentioned in the contexts of diet, food choices, weight loss, and nutrition.

But, what is sucrose? What is fructose? What is the difference between fructose vs sucrose? Is sucrose bad for you? Is it better to have sucrose vs glucose?

In this guide, we will discuss what sucrose and fructose are, how they are different, whether sucrose vs fructose is better for you, and foods that are high in fructose vs sucrose and vice versa.

We will look at: 

  • Are There Different Types of Sugar?
  • What Is Sucrose? Is Sucrose Sugar?
  • What Are the Differences Between Fructose vs Sucrose?
  • Is Sucrose Bad for You?
  • Which Is Healthier, Sucrose Or Fructose?

Let’s get started!

A bowl of sugar.

Are There Different Types of Sugar?

Before we look at the difference between fructose vs sucrose and get into the nitty-gritty, whether sucrose is bad for you, if fructose is better than sucrose, and what types of foods are high in fructose, etc., let’s look at what sucrose is and what fructose is.

Sucrose and fructose are both considered sugars. Sugars fall under the category of carbohydrates.

Every type of sugar, whether fructose, sucrose, glucose, or otherwise, contains four calories per gram, just like any carbohydrate.

What primarily differentiates sucrose vs fructose or sucrose vs glucose is the chemical structure of these sugar types.

The term “simple sugars“ is frequently used when discussing nutrition.

Simple sugars differentiate sugars from more complex carbohydrates, which are formed by linking many sugar molecules together.

Sugar cane.

Within the category of simple sugars, there are monosaccharides and disaccharides.

Monosaccharides are the simplest form of sugar, as monosaccharides are the smallest sugar molecules.

Disaccharides are formed when two monosaccharides are bonded together, so disaccharide sugar is a larger sugar molecule than a monosaccharide.

For context, a complex carbohydrate is considered a polysaccharide because it is formed from many monosaccharides and disaccharides linked together into a much larger molecule.

The reason that simple sugars get a bad rap is that the small sugar molecules are already broken down, so when you eat a food high in simple sugar, you experience a rapid increase in blood sugar after eating the food.

This blood sugar spike causes a resultant spike in insulin and can give you a “blood sugar crash” afterward.

Foods high in simple sugars are considered high-glycemic foods for this reason because there is a rapid increase in blood sugar levels after consuming simple sugar foods.

Although sucrose and fructose are both simple sugars, there are differences in the type and chemical structure of fructose vs sucrose.

Fruits and fruit juices.

So, what is fructose?

Fructose is a monosaccharide, so it is the smallest type of sugar molecule.

Fructose is often considered to be the sweetest naturally occurring caloric sweetener; note that some natural “noncaloric sweeteners“ such as Stevia are thousands of times sweeter, but in terms of real sugars, fructose is usually considered the sweetest natural sugar.

Because fructose is a monosaccharide, it contains six carbon atoms, six oxygen atoms, and 12 hydrogen atoms because the chemical formula for a monosaccharide sugar is C606H12.

There are three types of monosaccharides: fructose, glucose, and maltose.

Each of these simple sugars has the same chemical formula as a monosaccharide—C6O6H12—but the molecular structure (how these atoms are arranged in three-dimensional space) differs.

So, there are some nuanced differences between fructose vs glucose, for example, but fructose and glucose are more similar than fructose vs sucrose because fructose and glucose are both monosaccharides whereas sucrose is a disaccharide sugar.

This leads us to our next important question: what is sucrose made of?

Sucrose is a disaccharide made from fructose and glucose bonded together such that a single molecule of sucrose includes one molecule of fructose and one molecule of glucose.

This gives sucrose a total of 12 carbon atoms, 12 oxygen atoms, and 24 hydrogen atoms for a chemical formula of C12O12H24.

Honey comb.

What Foods Are High In Fructose?

There are quite a number of foods high in fructose.

Some foods are naturally high in fructose, such as fruit, honey, fruit juice, agave nectar, and certain vegetables.

However, one of the main sources of fructose in the diet is high fructose corn syrup.

Fructose corn syrup is a manufactured sweetener made by adding certain enzymes to corn starch, which is a product that is largely composed of glucose molecules.

This creates a glucose syrup that manufacturers add varying amounts of fructose to. Most high fructose corn syrup is about 42% fructose or 55% fructose, with the rest being water and glucose.

Because fructose is the sweetest simple sugar, the higher the percentage of fructose in high fructose corn syrup, the sweeter the end result.

Sucrose, which is table sugar, is made from fructose and glucose, so it also provides much of the fructose found in the diet, and honey is about 40% fructose by volume.

The equation of sucrose.

What Is Sucrose? Is Sucrose Sugar?

Sucrose is the chemical term for table sugar, so when people ask: “Is sucrose sugar?“the answer is emphatically yes.

Not only is sucrose a type of sugar in general, just like fructose or glucose, but sucrose is the sugar that people think about when they use the term “sugar“ in general as sucrose is the sugar found in a sugar bowl, bag of sugar, regular sugar packets at a coffee shop, etc.

Because sucrose is a disaccharide of fructose and glucose, it contains 50% glucose and 50% fructose for a molecule of sucrose.

Because fructose is sweeter than glucose, and sucrose is an even hybrid blend of fructose and glucose, sucrose is less sweet than fructose but sweeter than glucose.

Therefore, when comparing fructose vs sucrose, we can say that fructose is sweeter than sucrose, and with glucose vs sucrose, sucrose is sweeter than glucose.

Because sucrose is made from fructose and glucose, it is natural to assume that it is a man-made sugar formed in a lab by combining the other simple sugars.

Brown sugar.

However, sucrose is a naturally-occurring sugar, just like fructose is.

There are many larger molecules found in nature that are formed by the natural combination of smaller molecules or “building blocks,” and sucrose is an example of such.

For example, sucrose can be found in certain vegetables, fruits, and grains. The foods highest in sucrose found naturally within the food include sugar beets and sugarcane. 

For this reason, the sucrose table sugar we use in cooking is sucrose extracted from sugar beets or sugarcane in most cases.

However, as is the case with high fructose corn syrup, which gets added to tons of food products such as fruit juice, gummy fruit snacks, candy, sugary cereals, etc., sucrose is also added to many food products as sucrose is refined white sugar that is used in all sorts of recipes.

Most baked goods have sucrose in them, as do foods like ice cream, sweetened cereals, granola bars, and sugar-sweetened beverages.

Cubed sugar.

What Are the Differences Between Fructose vs Sucrose?

Aside from the differences in chemical structure, molecular size, and sweetness between sucrose vs fructose, there are some other notable differences between fructose vs sucrose.

Here are some of the key differences between sucrose table sugar vs fructose:

#1: Fructose vs Sucrose: Metabolism

Because fructose is a monosaccharide, it is essentially already absorbed by the body with no breakdown or digestion needed.

For this reason, fructose bypasses carbohydrate digestion in the mouth and gets readily absorbed in the small intestines.

Because glucose is the preferred form of sugar for the body, fructose is shuttled to the liver to be converted to glucose, which is a quick process because the molecules are so similar.

A bottle of high fructose corn syrup.

However, because there is this processing step, the absorption rate of fructose is slower than glucose, which leads to slightly lower insulin secretion after eating fructose vs glucose.

Because sucrose is a disaccharide, some amount of breakdown is required before it can be absorbed by the bloodstream.

Sucrose digestion begins in the mouth with salivary amylase, an enzyme that helps start breaking down carbohydrates.

However, this process is mostly reserved for more complex carbohydrates and polysaccharides, so the bulk of sucrose digestion still occurs in the small intestines and is carried out by sucrase, an enzyme in the small intestines that breaks down sucrose into fructose and glucose, its constituent monosaccharides.

From there, the glucose can enter the bloodstream and be used immediately for blood sugar, while the fructose goes to the liver for the conversion process previously discussed.

Overall, metabolizing sucrose takes longer, so foods high in sucrose result in a slightly lower glycemic response and insulin response than eating foods high in fructose.

Sugar cubes and sugar.

#2: Fructose vs Sucrose: Calories

All sugars contain four calories per gram, so there is no difference in fructose calories vs sucrose calories.

Is Sucrose Bad for You?

Because there is a lot of confusion about whether sucrose is sugar, people often ask the question: “Is sucrose bad for you?”

Ultimately, sucrose is bad for you in large amounts, just as any sugar is.

A moderate amount of sucrose or fructose found in natural foods is not inherently bad for you as long as you do not have diabetes or a metabolic condition in which you have to be extremely mindful of your sugar intake.

So, what this means is that eating fruits that have fructose isn’t unhealthy, and eating fruits and vegetables with sucrose isn’t necessarily unhealthy either.

However, where sucrose and fructose, or any sugar consumption for that matter, becomes bad for you is when you are consuming foods high in added sucrose or high fructose corn syrup.

A variety of fruits.

Which Is Healthier, Sucrose Or Fructose?

Although sucrose and fructose both contain four calories per gram, the body processes these sugars differently, and there is some evidence to suggest that fructose is worse for you than sucrose, particularly when comparing high fructose corn syrup vs table sugar.

In other words, foods with added sugar that are high in fructose or thought to be worse for you than foods with added sugar high in sucrose.

This is because there is some research to suggest that excessive consumption of fructose can trigger increased fat storage around the liver, which can cause an increase in visceral fat and increase the risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

Studies have found that diets high in processed forms of fructose, such as high fructose corn syrup, are linked to a higher rate of obesity, metabolic syndrome, abdominal fat, systemic inflammation, gout, high blood pressure, leptin resistance, and insulin resistance.

Keep in mind that this research does not pertain to high-fructose foods where the fructose is naturally occurring, such as fruits. 

Fruits also contain fiber, tons of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, all of which counteract the potential adverse health effects of fructose.

Unless you are eating an extreme amount of fruit, the amount of fructose in fruit should not be deleterious to your health.

For another comparison of different sweeteners, check out our guide to Stevia vs sugar here.

Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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