My college biochemistry teacher used the different metabolic fates of fructose and glucose as an example when we were learning about that kind of thing, and it stuck with me that thusly, high fructose corn syrup in pop (I’m from Minnesota, that’s what it’s called) and juice is probably what makes little kids develop messed up metabolisms and have chronic energy/weight consequences for most people in the western world. Granted, the health effects of HFCS can’t be much different than those for sucrose (table sugar) used as a sweetener, since sucrose is 50:50 fructose/glucose and HFCS is only about 55:45 (depending on the formulation). But there are a lot of companies out there for whom the safety of cheap sweeteners like HFCS and sucrose are a big deal—as many others have noted before (e.g. in Fast Food Nation among other less pop-culturish writings), these fructose-rich sweeteners are in pretty much every kind of mass-produced food you can find at the grocery store: Pop, juice, crackers, BREAD, pasta sauces, every kind of snack cake/bar/cookie, frozen ready meals
Given the standard American and British diet, my crude estimate is that most people (particularly lower income people who can’t afford expensive fresh foods and probably don’t have a Whole Foods near their neighborhood anyway) get up to 50% of their daily calories from pop, juice and bread/convenience foods/snacks. That’s getting to be a pretty high percentage of fructose-rich calories EVERY DAY. Fructose (in contrast to glucose, which does not do this) is known to decrease circulating insulin and leptin (1) (which are important to telling the central nervous system that you ate, and so energy should be used rather than stored) and mess up the response levels of ghrelin, GLP-1(intact) and GIP—other important hormones for how the body recognizes the fact it has taken in nutrients and needs to do something with them. These things are thought to be parts of the mechanism by which fructose contributes to metabolic syndrome (2) (insulin resistance, screwy lipid overloads messing up the liver and arteries and being deposited as extra fat all over the body). The epidemiological effects of fructose’s role in the way our food is designed, produced and marketed to us are almost surely related to the high incidence of heart disease, obesity and type II diabetes in our population in ways that go beyond just a sedentary lifestyle. This inkling has been borne out by studies showing that HFCS/fructose-containing foods increase feelings of hunger and fat intake (1), and are related to increases in body mass index and frequency of obesity in children who drink too much pop (3).
The Corn Refiners Association (http://www.sweetsurprise.com) likes to tell people in their FAQ that getting fat from sweeteners is your own fault, because everyone knows that sugars are fine for your health when “consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet” and that “No single food or ingredient is the sole cause of obesity, but rather too many calories and too little exercise is a primary cause. Both sugar and high fructose corn syrup contain 4 calories per gram.” They also say that
“all caloric (nutritive) sweeteners (are) metabolized similarly… The body digests caloric (nutritive) sweeteners by breaking them into smaller units, primarily glucose and fructose. These “simple” sugars are absorbed into the bloodstream, where they are transported to the cells of the body and are then converted into energy. Though the individual sugars are metabolized by different pathways, this is of little consequence since the body sees the same mix of sugars from caloric (nutritive) sweeteners, regardless of source.”
The Corn Refiner’s Association happily glosses over the metabolic damage caused by regular HFCS consumption by referencing this article (4—which, by the way, references the 2004 Teff et al article, lol at the CFA) that shows how there is no difference between sucrose and HFCS consumption on 24-hour endocrine and metabolic profiles in lean women:
“Is high fructose corn syrup metabolized differently than other sweeteners?
No. The myth that high fructose corn syrup is metabolized differently than other caloric (nutritive) sweeteners is based on studies that looked at pure fructose, not the mixture of fructose and glucose found in high fructose corn syrup. The most recent metabolic research published in the February 2007 edition of Nutrition found “no differences in the metabolic effects” of high fructose corn syrup and sucrose on circulating levels of glucose, leptin, insulin and ghrelin in a study group of lean women.”
Calling it “the myth” is, for one, false (unless glucose THE ORIGINAL SUGAR is somehow not a caloric[nutritive] sweetener) but at best completely missing the point, and trying to skirt around the fact that there’s plenty of fructose in both sucrose and HFCS. Guess who that research was funded by: Pepsico. Of course the Corn Refiner’s Association and Pepsico have about the same vested interest in demonstrating that HFCS has equivalent effects to sucrose—Pepsico finds it cheaper to sweeten that pop with the relatively low-priced HFCS from the CRA than sucrose and especially purified glucose. Plus, since drinking that pop doesn’t really make your body notice it has taken in food, you’re happy to have another one half an hour later when that ~45% glucose half of the HFCS has been used up. But while they love to use science to their advantage when needing to soothe the public (who has no idea that the chemical structure of sucrose contains almost as much fructose as HFCS and thus is like comparing apples to… more expensive apples?) both of them would of course much rather NOT highlight the science behind the clearly bad effects of so many money-making sweeteners in the diet of western people. Hey, maybe they all go golfing with the health insurance HMO scam artist criminals, having some hearty laughs and fist-bumps over how much money they’re all making off of our fat, stupid, lazy butts.
1. Teff KL, Elliott SS, Tschop M, Kieffer TJ, Radar D, Heiman M, et al. Dietary fructose reduces circulating insulin and leptin, attenuates postprandial suppression of Ghrelin, and increases triglycerides in women. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2004;89(G):2963–72.
2. Stanhope, KL and Havel, PJ. Fructose consumption: potential mechanisms for its effects to increase visceral adiposity and induce dyslipidemia and insulin resistance. Current Opinion in Lipidology 2008, 19: 16-24.
3. Ludwig DS, Peterson KE, Gortmaker SL 2001 Relation between consumption
of sugar-sweetened drinks and childhood obesity: a prospective, observational
analysis. Lancet 357:505–508
4. Melanson KJ, Zukley L, Lowndes J, Nguyen V, Angelopoulos TJ, Rippe JM. 2007. Effects of high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose consumption on circulating glucose, insulin, leptin, and ghrelin and on appetite in normal-weight women. Nutrition. 23(2):103-12.