Today, Americans consume about 150 pounds of sugar per person per year (or almost 3 pounds per week), an astounding increase from about 4 pounds per person per year a hundred years ago. This is hardly surprising considering that highly refined sugars in the forms of sucrose (table sugar), dextrose (corn sugar), and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) have been processed into so many foods such as bread, breakfast cereals, candies, cookies, energy bars, fruit-flavored beverages, ketchup, mayonnaise, pasta sauces, pastries, peanut butter, salad dressings, soft drinks, and a whole host of other processed, convenience foods.
What is HFCS?
HFCS, developed in the 1960s, is a liquid sweetener made from corn starch. After processing, it becomes corn syrup. Pure corn syrup is 100% glucose and contains no fructose, but to make HFCS, manufacturers use a special process to boost the fructose content (usually to 55%) and increase the sweetness. To add insult to injury, HFCS is metabolized from mostly genetically modified corn and processed with genetically modified enzymes. Fructose contains zero vitamins, minerals, or enzymes.
In the U.S., about two-thirds of the HFCS is used in soft drinks. A single 12-ounce can of soda has as much as 10 teaspoons of sugar in the form of HFCS. HFCS is so widely used because it is sweeter than sucrose, easy to blend with other ingredients, cheap, and has a longer shelf life. HFCS now supplies about 10% of all calories in the U.S. diet. For some people, including many children, it is closer to 20%.
How Does Fructose Affect Our Body?
Humans have never consumed anything close to this much fructose before. Forty years ago, we consumed no HFCS and very little fructose, but now it has pushed sucrose aside as the leading additive in our food supply.
The body digests, absorbs, and utilizes fructose differently than glucose, our main source of energy. Fructose does not stimulate insulin secretion; in fact, small amounts can help people with type 2 diabetes to control their blood sugar. However, studies have found that high fructose consumption increases the risk of diabetes by promoting insulin resistance.
Unlike glucose which is metabolized in every cell of the body, fructose is mostly broken down in the liver, where it affects the production of various lipids. The livers of rats on a high fructose diet looked like the livers of alcoholics, plugged with fat and cirrhotic. High fructose intake has been linked to increased triglycerides (fats in blood), increased LDL (bad) cholesterol, lowered HDL (good) cholesterol, liver damage, high blood pressure, systemic inflammation, and increased formation of cell-damaging free radicals (precursor to cancer).
America’s Obesity Epidemic
The jury is still out on whether increased consumption of HFCS is the prime culprit in the rising obesity rate in America – two-thirds of the Americans are overweight and one-third is obese. Although fructose doesn’t stimulate insulin, some research studies claim that it might affect other hormones related to appetite by suppressing leptin that signals satiety, thus, encouraging overeating.
Read The Labels!
HFCS is disguised in many foods and can be labeled as chicory, inulin, iso glucose, glucose-fructose syrup, and fruit fructose. So read the labels carefully.
What About Fruit?
Do not cut back on fruit because it contains fructose. Americans get only a very small portion of their fructose from fruit. Fruit is a great food with many health benefits because it contains fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. You would have to eat several servings of fruit at one sitting to get as much fructose as in a can of soda.
However, it is a different case for fruit juices. For example, a glass of orange juice has nearly as much sugar and calories as soda. The fact that fruit juice contains no fiber can result in a spike in blood sugar levels. In the longer-term, over consumption of sugary drinks can lead to insulin resistance, excess fat storage, and increased risk of type 2 diabetes. It is always preferable to have a piece of fruit to a glass of juice. If you have to drink juice, limit the consumption to no more than one 8-ounce glass a day.