A staggering 3 million bottles of coke are sold every 4 minutes. That’s a worrying statistic considering that coke like many other soft drinks (including Sprite, Dr Pepper etc) is sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
So what’s the problem with high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)? For one thing, it’s not only found in fizzy drinks but also in many different types of processed food. And for another: A new study indicates that the rise in high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) intake may be one of the primary keys to the growing obesity epidemic in the US.
Considering that the UK isn’t far behind the US in terms of the rising numbers of obese people, these findings have important implications for us too.
US Researchers at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University (LSU) examined the relationship between high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) consumption and the development of obesity by analysing US Department of Agriculture food consumption tables from 1967 through to 2000.
Among the LSU findings:
- Obesity among US adults has risen from 23 percent to 30 percent in the past 10 years.
- The average body weight of Americans rose slowly from 1900 to the late 1980s, at which point the average began to climb sharply.
- The consumption of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) increased more than 1000 percent between 1970 and 1990.
- The increased consumption of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) far exceeds the changes in intake of any other food or food group.
In addition, the researchers also observed that the body doesn’t process high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in the same way glucose (sugar) is processed, with the result that fructose is more likely to be converted into fat.
Off the mark?
Of course, you won’t be surprised to hear that a few nutritionists question the LSU findings. As always, when it comes to dietary questions, there’s no shortage in differences of opinions.
For instance, Alison Kretser, a dietician for the Grocery Manufacturers of America (members include Coca-Cola and Kellogg), dismissed the idea that high-fructose corn sweeteners present a problem, telling the Associated Press that the real concern is how many calories people eat compared to how many calories they burn.
Ms. Kretser makes a good point. You can’t go wrong burning more calories than you eat. But the fact is, the LSU research doesn’t ‘blame’ high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) for the rise in obesity. The authors state that, ‘dietary fructose may contribute to increased energy intake and weight gain. Furthermore, calorifically sweetened beverages may enhance calorific over consumption.’ So while high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) may not be the one and only prime suspect in the obesity epidemic, it certainly can’t be dismissed as irrelevant.
But obesity isn’t the only risk factor attached to high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
In a previous e-Alert, I told you about a review of nutritional data on fructose from the Department of Nutrition at the University of California, Davis (UCD) in the US.
In animal studies, the UCD team found that fructose consumption contributes to insulin resistance, an impaired tolerance to glucose, high blood pressure, and elevated levels of triglycerides.
And although the data in humans is not quite as conclusive as the animal trials, the researchers report that a high intake of fructose may increase body weight and encourage insulin resistance, both of which are risk factors for type 2 diabetes.
And after reviewing the UCD research, US HSI Panellist Dr Allan Spreen, pointed out another problem with high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS): the browning reaction. Dr. Spreen explained: ‘The browning reaction occurs when certain carb molecules bind with proteins and cause ageing. It’s also called ‘glycation’, ‘glycosylation’, and sometimes the Maillard reaction. It changes the structure of enzymes and other proteins, resulting in tissue and organ damage (and it’s suspected in organ damage particularly in diabetics).’
According to the Weston A. Price Foundation, the browning reaction occurs with any sugar, but with fructose it happens seven times faster than it does with glucose.
Another serious side effect of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) consumption is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In a previous report I sent you, I told you about a one-year study conducted by gastroenterologists at the University of Iowa (UI) in the US.
Among a group of 80 IBS patients, 30 were diagnosed with fructose intolerance (an inability to properly absorb fructose in the digestive tract). Each of these 30 subjects was given detailed information about dietary sources of fructose and how to avoid them. One year later, 54 percent of this group had remained on the suggested diet. Overall these subjects reported a significant decline in IBS symptoms, and some reported a complete absence of abdominal pain.
IU researchers noted that their previous fructose research indicated that perhaps more than half of all IBS patients are fructose intolerant (particularly those with persistent diarrhoea). And many of these patients might easily reduce their symptoms simply by avoiding fructose foods.
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