First, let me preface this article by admitting that I have quite the sweet tooth. There are some people who claim to not like sweets and while I wish that was me, its just not. I love sweet creamer in my coffee, and the occasional donut, pastry, or candy. However, after watching “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” with Dr. Robert Lustig (link is provided below if you would like to watch it too!), I have been consciously avoiding added sugar and finding sugar alternatives wherever possible. Not only does Dr. Lustig explain the dangers of sugary foods and drinks and how they have affected us over the years, but he also provides proof for two pretty bold statements:
Sugar is the cause of Metabolic Syndrome.
Both sugar (sucrose) and high fructose corn syrup are equally bad; they are both dangerous, they are both poison.
Metabolic syndrome is a grouping of multiple conditions that together raise someone’s risk for the most deadly health conditions such as diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and even cancer. The conditions that comprise Metabolic Syndrome are: excess body weight especially around the waist, high blood pressure (hypertension), high blood sugar levels, High LDL cholesterol (the “bad kind”) and low HDL cholesterol (the “good kind”). So, how is sugar to blame for these things? Let’s dive in to it.
A Brief History of Fructose
First of all, it’s important to know the difference between sucrose and fructose. Sucrose (sugar) = 1/2 glucose, 1/2 fructose – they are processed differently in your body, which we’ll get to!
- Prior to mass food processing, Americans consumed fructose from only natural sucrose, fruits and vegetables (about 15g of fructose a day, which equals 30g of sugar a day)
- From the beginning of the century to the start of WWII, American consumption grew to about 16-24g of fructose a day
- In 1966, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) was created in Japan, and hit the US market in 1975 (HFCS is about half the price of sugar so it quickly found it’s way into almost every processed food)
- By 1978, the average consumption was 37g a day
- In 1982, the “low-fat craze” resulted in high-carb processed food made without fat; large food companies started adding large amounts of sucrose and fructose to make foods palatable.
- From 1989 – 1995, there was a 41% increase in soft drink consumption and a 35% increase in fruit drinks. By 1994, the national average was 54.7g of fructose per person per day
- Today, the average adolescent consumes 72.8g of fructose/day (=145.6g of sugar!). 25% of adolescents consume 15% of all daily calories from fructose alone…
- Today, Americans on average consume 141 lbs. of sugar per person per year. Ummm, YIKES.
What Does Fructose Do To Us?
- Fructose is very different from Glucose:
- Say you consume 120 calories of Glucose – 80% is used right away because every cell in your body relies on glucose, the other 20% gets metabolized through the liver. However, the liver can store glycogen without going into failure.
- Say you consume 120 calories in Fructose – Fructose can only be metabolized through the liver. When an excess hits the liver, it generates reactive oxygen species and damages proteins in the liver.
- Fructose does not suppress Ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and does not stimulate Insulin and Leptin (the satiety hormone) so you end up eating more
- Fructose increases risk of Gout and Hypertension because it increases Uric Acid which blocks Nitric Oxide (which keeps blood pressure low)
- In a nutshell: fructose is addictive, it masks the taste of excessive sodium or processing that your body would otherwise reject, and it is a foreign compound that only the liver can metabolize – similar to the way ethanol (fermented sugar) is classified as a poison, so is fructose.
If you have the time, I encourage you to watch the video linked below, and stay tuned for an upcoming article on how to reduce sugar in your diet through sustainable tweaks, swaps, and habits!
Written by GUADS Staff member Kate with contributions from nhlbi.nih.gov and The University of California Television (UCTV)