Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Great Fructose Debate

Over the past few years so much has been said on the topic of high fructose corn syrup.It is becoming increasingly apparent that this common processed food ingredient is harmful to our health.To understand this it becomes necessary to get some background on sugar metabolism.

Regular table sugar, or sucrose, is a disaccharide – it is composed to two sugar groups. It is one glucose and fructose bound together.These two sugars are metabolized differently. Glucose can be processed nearly anywhere in the body and our cells can make energy (ATP) directly from glucose. Fructose must be processed in the liver using the enzyme fructokinase. After processing, fructose products can be used to make glycogen (stored energy) or triglycerides (fatty storage material). This is where the consumption levels come into play.After the maximum amount of storage space for glycogen is used, than it must be stored as fat or triglycerides.

Fructose is naturally found in fruits and is certainly fine for human consumption in limited amounts. However, overconsumption of fructose can lead to liver problems, diarrhea, gas and bloating, elevated triglycerides and weight gain. The liver is entirely responsible for fructose metabolism. Research reported by Linda Forristal in the Fall 2001 issue of the Weston A. Price Foundation’s journal shows lab rats with high fructose diets have liver damage similar to that of alcoholics.

Fructose is absorbed in the intestines by special receptors and they can only absorb so much fructose at a time.Any fructose left in the gut leads to gas, bloating and diarrhea. Excess fructose is converted to fat. Fructose does not activate satiety (the feeling of being “full” after eating) and therefore consumption increases and insulin resistance develops. All of this leads to weight gain in general and central obesity or “belly fat” in particular.

Researchers have linked high levels of fructose consumption with the development of gout.Uric acid is a byproduct of fructose metabolism and accumulation of the uric acid crystals in the body leads to the painful condition of gout once common among wealthier elderly individuals. Dr. Robert Johnson published a book entitled “The Sugar Fix: The High Fructose Fallout That is Making You Fat And Sick” discussing this correlation.

High fructose corn syrup is particularly problematic because it has more fructose than glucose and they are not bound together as sucrose molecules. It is also found in nearly all processed foods and soft drinks. High fructose corn syrup is much cheaper than sugar and so it was economically viable to make the switch to this syrup rather than sugar in processed foods. Corn is heavily subsidized by the government and is therefore very readily available. In the past year some trials of sugar-sweetened soft drinks are making their ways to the shelf once again.

Another sweetener that is heavily touted for its “natural” appeal is agave nectar. The switch from sugar consumption to agave nectar is a mistake because agave nectar has much more fructose than high fructose corn syrup – as much as 80%. That means that the problems with high fructose corn syrup are found to a much greater degree with agave nectar.

Pure glucose sweetener can be cheaply purchased for use in the home. Fruit consumption is an important part of a balanced diet but be aware that you should choose fruits with lower amounts of fructose or have smaller servings in order to avoid excess fructose consumption. It should be noted that the consumption of sugar is way to high in the country. All forms of sugar can be harmful in excess. Processed foods contain so many hidden sugars. Imagine if you will the average burger in a bun. It has so much more sugar than if you would bake the buns at home and grill the burger yourself. We don't think of the buns as being sweets or sugary items but because the syrup is so cheap it is added to all processed items. This drives up our consumption and we didn't even realise it. It is much better to eat home-prepared meals and bypass the entire issue.