Recently, a UCSF researcher stumbled upon the fact that, back in the 1960’s, the Sugar Research Foundation (now the Sugar Association) paid three Harvard scientists to minimize the link between sugar and health suggesting that saturated fat is more the problem. Now we are learning the reverse is true. And, not all sugars are created equal. Here’s the breakdown...
Regular cane sugar (sucrose) is made of two sugar molecules bound tightly together—glucose and fructose in equal amounts. (50/50). Glucose is our main fuel source for energy. Glucose is a simple sugar in foods that are easily broken down by every cell in our body. The enzymes in our digestive tract break down the sucrose into glucose and fructose, which are then absorbed into the body. Natural fructose, from fruits and vegetables, has good nutrients and fiber to slow down digestion and make us feel full. Fructose the ingredient, is digested so quickly you don’t feel full and you eat more. More importantly, it contains no essential nutrients and is completely “empty” in calories.
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is bad because it consists of glucose and the ingredient fructose, not in a 50-50 ratio, but a 55-45 fructose to glucose ratio in an unbound form. Since there is no chemical bond between them (glucose and fructose) no digestion is required. The glucose is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and the ingredient fructose is metabolized in the liver and triggers lipogenesis (the production of fats like triglycerides and cholesterol). This is believed to be the major cause of liver damage in our country and causes a condition called “fatty liver” which affects over 70 million Americans. Dr. Joseph Mercola, a NY Times best selling author and personality states that HFCS is as dangerous to the liver as alcohol. The ingredient fructose can cause visceral fat accumulation—the worst type of body fat. It’s also linked to health issues such as diabetes, heart disease, body-wide inflammation and obesity.
Dr. Mark Hyman, MD—best selling author on nutrition and wellness, and a regular on PBS—states that HFCS and cane sugar are NOT biochemically identical or processed the same way by the body. HFCS is an industrial food product. The sugars are extracted through a chemical enzymatic process resulting in a chemically and biologically novel compound called HFCS. HFCS contains contaminants including mercury because of chloralkali products used in its manufacturing and are not regulated or measured by the FDA.
The USDA reported the ANNUAL average for sugar consumption in the US in 2013 was 128.4 lbs per person and that corn sweeteners made up over 55% of that (58.6 lbs per person). That is a staggering number. The USDA recommends a 2,000 calorie diet include no more than 40 grams (1.5 oz) of added sugar per day (that’s about 10 teaspoons a day, or 32 lbs a year!). That’s a long way from caveman days when our hunter gatherer ancestors consumed the equivalent of 20 teaspoons per year.
Products with HFCS are sweeter and cheaper than products made with cane sugar. To be fair, HFCS is not the same as pure corn syrup; but corn syrup is GMO, which is another issue altogether. Interestingly, Karo Corn Syrup in retail is pure corn syrup while the foodservice product is HFCS. What can you do? You could use cane, agave, maple syrup and raw honey if you want a better liquid sugar. These products might cost you more, but they are healthier. Our health matters!