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What is the Difference Between Dextrose, Fructose, and Glucose?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Dextrose, fructose, and glucose are all monosaccharides, known as simple sugars. These sugars can combine to form more complex sugars, including the disaccharide known as sucrose, or table sugar. The primary differences between these sugars have to do with the ways in which they are metabolized by the body, and they all play important roles in body function.

Fructose is an extremely sweet sugar that is found in many fruits. The flavor is sometimes intensely cloying, as anyone who has eaten an overripe piece of fruit knows, and it is believed to be the most sweet of the naturally occurring sugars. Fructose can also be obtained through the breakdown of sucrose, which is made from linked fructose and glucose molecules. It has a low glycemic index, which means that it takes a long time for the body to break down, resulting in a slow release of sugar, rather than a sudden rush. A diet high in fructose as been linked to health problems like diabetes and obesity, although there is as of yet no proof that it causes these conditions.

Dextrose is simply a form of glucose. Some food packagers like to use "dextrose" on their packaging instead of "glucose" because they believe that people have negative associations with glucose. This sugar is extremely abundant in nature, and it can be found in numerous plant and animal tissues, often along with other sugars such as fructose. The body relies on glucose for energy, using this sugar to power cells. When people measure their blood sugar, they are actually measuring the amount of dissolved glucose in the blood.

The molecular formula for glucose/dextrose and fructose is actually the same. Both sugars are considered to be hexoses, meaning that they have six carbon atoms attached to 12 hydrogen atoms and six oxygen atoms. The differing ways in which molecules can be attached cause various hexoses to behave differently, creating different chemical compounds which lend the hexoses some distinct properties.

Glucose is what is known as an aldohexose, meaning that it contains a compound called an aldehyde, located at the first position in the molecule. Aldehydes have a carbon atom which is attached to a hydrogen atom and also double bonded to an oxygen atom. Fructose, on the other hand, is a ketohexose, containing a ketone which consists of a single carbon atom double bonded to an oxygen atom. The ketone in fructose is attached to the second position in the molecule. Ketones play an important role in biochemistry.

The simple structures of these sugars allow them to be linked in a number of different ways to other molecules, creating more complex sugars which will behave differently in the body and generating some extremely unwieldy chemical formulas. For consumers, the important thing to remember is that labels which say "dextrose" really mean "glucose."

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By geegee — On Jan 26, 2016

@anon119975: "Coincidence"?

Seemingly, but not specifically. Fructose is more addictive than dextrose/glucose. Obesity is the result of food processors putting more and more sugars of all types into their products to "cash-in" on this addictive quality of all sugars. Once addicted (as we in the west certainly are, to our shame and certain demise) we seek products that give us the highest hit possible. Food producers, especially the huge conglomerates, put as much sugars as possible into almost everything these days, even where it is ridiculous.

In 1967 at high school, as a science project, we analyzed Coca Cola by destructive distillation. The sugar content was 6.7 percent, made up of mostly corn syrup, but we did not have the resources to determine what exact sugars were present. Labeling was not used, so the consumer was unaware of the sugar content.

Today, check the label on a bottle of coca cola that is not "diet/zero or sugar free." Pepsi Cola is pretty much the same: about 11 percent to Coke's 10.4 percent. Pretty disgusting,eh?

That is why we have a third of our population obese and we are the fattest, laziest area of the planet. It is not the form of sugar we take; it is the amount.

By geegee — On Jan 26, 2016

anon989493: "What about stevia"? An absolutely natural plant that has been used by folk for centuries as a sweetener. Today, the two biggest soft drink giants, Coca Cola and PepsiCo, have invested millions of dollars and are now marketing products with altered Stevia as a cheap sweetener to fool consumers (and, it is, of course working) that they care about "natural." Their use of stevia is no more "natural" as sucrose from cane or beet, or high fructose corn syrup, even derived from wheat! They have realized that consumers are (finally) becoming more aware of the dangers of the deadly poisonous artificial sweeteners in their sugar-free diet/zero disgusting concoctions, so they can now label these as sugar-free and "natural". Arsenic occurs naturally!

By geegee — On Jan 26, 2016

@fructoseyuk: "Not all sugars are alike." Well, they all share one common property, even the sugar alcohols and the "naturals" such as stevia, even the disgusting sugar replacements that are finding their way out of laboratories and into our food and drinks. What would you say was that common property?

By anon989493 — On Mar 09, 2015

What about stevia?

By anon946233 — On Apr 17, 2014

@anon265778: Yes, thank you! From what I've read (and I've read a lot) a ketogenic diet can be beneficial for many people especially diabetics. People have stopped taking insulin and even "cured" themselves of diabetes by eating a ketogenic diet (high healthy fat, moderate protein, low carb and ultra-low grain to train your body to run off of ketones produced by burning fat rather than off of glucose). I like the analogy of body energy as heating a house: glucose is like heating it with newspaper-- quick to light but is used up quickly-- and ketones as using logs-- takes time to light, which is why you need to transition your body over about 10 days, but then it burns much longer and more efficiently.

By anon946232 — On Apr 17, 2014

@anon349908: I wouldn't base your dietary plan on the Bible, or what they ate in biblical times. Grains, specifically wheat, has significantly changed over the past few thousand years, especially in the last century or even half century. This change from one of the early forms of wheat (einkorn) to what it is today can cause inflammation in the body, as well as other problems. It has been genetically modified to increase production and prevent pests from affecting it as much, and now a days it is very hard to find products not using GMO wheat.

Yes, eating things in moderation is a great idea, but whether your goal is weight loss or just increasing overall health elimination of foods that cause inflammation and can mess with your goals is an even better idea, especially when there are alternatives available (i.e. other types of flours such as almond or spelt). If you're interested in other books to base your wheat consumption off of, check out "Grain Brain" and "Wheat Belly."

I wouldn't consider myself an expert on this. but I've been doing a lot of research on nutrition, especially on grains, over the past few months and have read many research articles, which is what I am basing this on.

By Belaqua — On Nov 30, 2013

I am now a former "sugarholic" after reading the Sweet Poison Quit Plan and dramatically reducing fructose and any refined sugar from my diet. I no longer crave at all now, and I was bad! I use dextrose to make the occasional treat but it is fructose free, so it's all good. Half the sugar content in any food is fructose, so don't fool yourself thinking fructose isn't in foods other than fruit!

By anon349908 — On Sep 30, 2013

I find it hard to believe that fructose is "bad" for all of us and I also find it hard to believe that all grains are bad for all of us.

God created all fruit for our enjoyment and He also created grains for us to eat; they ate bread regularly in the Bible. It's the consumption of too much of any one thing and all the "frankenfoods" the modern food industry has created that are "bad" for us!

I recently went to see a holistic practitioner who performed a Galvanic Skin Test on me and she was able to tell me what I should and should not be eating specifically for me! We are all different and not all of us need to avoid the same things, but in all cases, moderation is key!

By anon335875 — On May 24, 2013

Basically Dextrose = glucose that we eat. Humans cannot metabolize L-glucose.

By anon334331 — On May 12, 2013

The sugar found in a candy bar is usually sugar, which is half fructose and have glucose. Our body metabolizes each differently. Glucose gets divided up by the organs and processed throughout the body, with only about 1/4 going to the liver, where it is turned to fat.

All fructose goes straight to the liver and is turned to fat, ergo fructose is bad. Fructose in some fruit is OK because the fiber in the fruit helps us to metabolize the fructose, but in general stay away from high sugar fruits, like melons and grapes and watermelon and even sweeter apples. Instead. go for berries and pears, or half a banana.

You can use dextrose in cooking instead of sugar so that you are consuming glucose instead of fructose, but you will need more liquid, lower cooking temperature and they don't store for the same amount of time, but they are better for you.

By anon318304 — On Feb 06, 2013

It's also good to reach for few cherries to satisfy a sugar craving,

By anon272268 — On May 31, 2012

My husband had an a1c test of 6.5. We eliminated all high fructose corn syrup from the house. He now has a a1c test of 5.8. Don't tell me there is no difference in sugars.

By anon268985 — On May 16, 2012

I am amazed at the article which states as fact things which are completely wrong. All of the "science" full of faulty logic and incomplete testing since the 1970s has drawn some very poor conclusions and has proliferated the fructose poison (and it is an actual poison) across the world.

By anon265778 — On May 03, 2012

How sadly misinforming this article is about glucose. Your body wants saturated fats for energy, not glucose. Your body only needs a tiny amount of sugar to operate and it will burn glucose for energy when it is forced to by our over-sugary diets, because it is more prevalent and convenient to use in that case.

The answer is to cut out all grains (which are really bad for you) and extra sugars. Stick to a serving or two a day of fruit. For type II diabetics, this is your freedom. Insulin is killing you slowly. It is not meant to manage blood-sugar levels. There are other things for that.

By anon244661 — On Feb 02, 2012

I have noticed the primary ingredient in a lot of diabetic safe sweeteners is dextrose. How is this safe for diabetics when they are fooled into thinking they are free food?

By anon238551 — On Jan 04, 2012

My son has a corn allergy and we have found that he reacts to dextrose.

By anon225131 — On Oct 25, 2011

I have gluten and corn allergies. Is dextrose in artificial sweeteners and other products made from corn?

By anon189432 — On Jun 23, 2011

Dextrose and Glucose are not the same but are used interchangebly. Dextrose is the biologically active form of Glucose (D-Glucose). Since L-Glucose is rare and not natural, glucose always refers to D-Glucose which is why dextrose and glucose are used interchangebly, but it is an important distinction.

By topurechem — On May 13, 2011

I think glucose is the same as dextrose. There is not any difference between them.

By anon170737 — On Apr 27, 2011

Dextrose is actually refers to D-Glucose. It is confusing but the pharmaceutical industry often calls it Dextrose sot hey won't accidentally obtain L-Glucose or a mixture of D and L glucose. so if it indicates Dextrose, it actually in effect is the same thing glucose. l-Glucose is not added in food and is only produced by manufactering or in a lab.

By anon170736 — On Apr 27, 2011

Dextrose is the same as Glucose. Just different naming convention.

By fructoseyuk — On Jan 22, 2011

About one third of all people have fructose malabsorption. That is, they lack the enzyme to metabolize it. Not all sugars are alike.

By anon139118 — On Jan 03, 2011

The article is neutral in that it does not advocate consuming one sugar over another. It does point out that the metabolism of fructose is different from that of glucose. Glucose is the product of photosynthesis and is an essential part of "normal" metabolism.

By anon122065 — On Oct 26, 2010

How can a product be labeled "sugar free" when it contains dextrose and maltodextrin? Are these constituents actually calorie-free? Isn't this a form of deceptive trade practice? Or is it just totally up to the consumer to know the difference and refuse to buy such products? Or not.

By anon119975 — On Oct 19, 2010

Is it just a coincidence that Americans started to put on the pounds and increase their risk of diabetes the same time our food industry started replacing sugar with high fructose corn syrup?

I read labels and avoid that stuff like the plague.

By anon118131 — On Oct 12, 2010

I used to be a sugar junkie, but now that I'm older I don't drink pop, use fake sugars or white sugar. I buy raw sugar and pure unsweetened, not from concentrate, grapefruit juice. Half a liter of that in the morning satisfies me until well after 1 p.m.

By anon117460 — On Oct 10, 2010

On a video that I recently watched "Sugar: The Bitter Truth," the professor explains that fructose and sucrose are the most harmful sugar products to consume. Fructose has a higher sweetness rating, and sucrose is bad simply because its half glucose/fructose.

The professor's conclusion is that glucose is the only safe sugar to consume (via pastas etc). This article claims that fructose is safe though. I just want to get the facts.

By anon113810 — On Sep 26, 2010

I would say despite the unhealthy effects of sugar, that industries can use isomerase, a specialised enzyme, to convert glucose into fructose which would benefit diabetics or anybody else wanting to reduce their intake of calories. Fructose is much sweeter and therefore you need fewer teaspoons of this stuff on your cereal as opposed to other sugars!

By anon112286 — On Sep 19, 2010

BelugaWhale, the reason for the glucose test is to see if you are a possible candidate for diabetes. Or to see if the unborn child is at risk.

By doppler — On Jul 17, 2010

@BelugaWhale - The glucose test in pregnancy is like drinking flat orange soda or flat Sprite, depending on your doctor's office. The oral glucose test helps to determine if you're liable to get Gestational Diabetes.

By BelugaWhale — On Jul 17, 2010

I don't know if any of you have ever been pregnant, but when you are there is a glucose test. I haven't had to take it yet because I'm not far enough along, but does anyone know why they do it and what it's supposed to tell you?

By gameaddicted — On Jul 17, 2010

@ChickenLover - The easiest way to tell whether a juice has high fructose corn syrup is to simply look at the ingredients list on the container. Whatever ingredient you see listed first, that is the ingredient that is in the juice the most. So if you see "water," then water is the main content that makes up the juice.

By ChickenLover — On Jul 17, 2010

Yum, yum, I love sugar! The only thing bad I have to say about sugar is that it's bad for you in most cases and in great quantities. This can easily be seen when children consume too much fructose or high fructose corn syrup which is a derivative, of course, of fructose.

You can easily see this with the growing concern around juices and high fructose corn syrup contents.

By ellaesans — On Jul 17, 2010

@Annapurna - Many nutritionists recommend this same option when it comes to people who are overweight or chronic binge eaters. While many people would like to go for a fruit that's higher in fructose, the reality is that most of us don't. Alternatives to fruit would be natural fruit juices.

By Annapurna — On Jul 13, 2010

When someone experiences a "sugar craving," the body is actually craving the fructose found in fruit, not the sugar found in a candy bar or an ice cream cone. Next time a sugar craving hits, reach for a bowl of strawberries or a peach and that craving will be satisfied.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
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