Added Sugars: a Study on the Effects of Fructose in Food at American Grocery Stores

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The Issues With High Fructose Corn Syrup

It is well established that sugar is the one of the main culprits of many health ailments. A survey of processed food items at American grocery stores found that 68% of them had added sugars. One type of added sugar, high fructose corn syrup, has been singled out by health advocates in the war against sugar. Is HFCS worse for you than other added sugars? Research has found that the higher levels of fructose in HFCS is worse for your health, mainly due to the way fructose is metabolized by the body, compared to glucose.

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High fructose corn syrup is the result of human ingenuity. By adding a few enzymes to convert the glucose in corn syrup, which is 100% glucose, to fructose, you get high fructose corn syrup, which results in a sweeter substance. HFCS is as sweet as sucrose, which is table sugar, and is cheaper to produce. Buoyed by farm subsidies that encourage the overproduction of corn in the United States, virtually all of the most popular soda brands use high fructose corn syrup to sweeten their beverages. Many processed food items like cookies, canned soups, pickles, salad dressings, ketchup, and even bread are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. A 2004 study by the American Society for Clinical Nutrition found that HFCS is responsible for “40% of caloric sweeteners added to foods and beverages and is the sole caloric sweetener in soft drinks in the United States.”

High fructose corn syrup has become a common sweetener in food products, but is it worse for our health than regular table sugar? Since the introduction of HFCS into our food supply in the early 1970s, the rate of obesity in the U.S. has increased from 15% to 33%. Surely, there are many other factors that contribute to the rising levels of obesity, but the science suggests that HFCS is one of the main culprits. Research from Princeton University found that rats that consumed HFCS gained significantly more weight than rats that consumed table sugar(sucrose).

The main reasoning for this is the way fructose and glucose are metabolized in the body. Glucose enters the bloodstream and can be utilized by virtually every cell in the body. Only 20% of glucose gets processed by the liver. In contrast, fructose is entirely metabolized by the liver and any excess fructose gets stored as fat. Ghrelin is a hormone produced in the GI tract that signals to the brain that you are hungry and require food. Fructose does not have any effect on ghrelin receptors. This results in the brain not getting the signal that you are full and to stop eating, which causes more caloric consumption. In addition to increasing fat storage and contributing to rising levels of obesity, one of the byproducts of fructose metabolism in the liver are triglycerides, which build up in the liver over time. The end result potentially being fatty liver disease and pancreatitis. Other byproducts of fructose metabolism are free radicals and uric acid. Free radicals damage cell structures and uric acid contributes to artery wall damage by turning off production of the protective chemical compound nitric oxide.

All sugar is generally bad for your health and contributes to the rising obesity epidemic, but high fructose corn syrup is worse than other types of sugars when it comes to weight gain and other negative health effects. Fructose, unlike glucose, can only be metabolized in the liver where excess fructose gets converted to fat and produces an array of other damaging byproducts. It has no effect on the “hunger hormone” ghrelin, which prevents the signaling to the brain that you’ve eaten enough and to stop eating. It is no coincidence that since the introduction of HFCS, the levels of obesity have risen dramatically. While high fructose corn syrup isn’t the only contributor to rising obesity rates, but it is one its main offenders.

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