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Sugar Sugar

January 3, 2013

The news is important. Not the news I get from my Facebook friends or Twitter feed. But actual news from actual journalists. Lately I haven’t been able to find the time in my life to dedicate to staying on top of the news.

Not even the food news.

Which is why I feel so fortunate to have people looking out for me like Chris VanDoren who left a comment for me yesterday that said, “You must be enjoying the news/research about HFCS that came out today… maybe you are not so fussy.”

Truth be told, I had not been enjoying the news about high fructose corn syrup, but that was mostly because I had not yet seen the story. And I have to tell you, even when I found the news report about the latest scientific study which supports the notion that consuming HFCS makes you fatter than eating equivalent amounts of table sugar, I still wasn’t overjoyed. Here’s why.

Gizmodo ran with the scintillating title, This is Why You Can’t Stop Eating, Fatty. The story referenced the more tame piece on BusinessInsider.com penned by Marilyn Marchione of the Associated Press and entitled, Fructose May Lead to Overeating.

As far as I can tell, both seem to be referencing the study released yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association called, Effects of Fructose vs Glucose on Regional Cerebral Blood Flow in Brain Regions Involved With Appetite and Reward Pathways. The science of sugar is crazy stuff.

Speaking of crazy, I wrote several hundred words on high fructose corn syrup a while back.

Off the top of your head, could you tell me the difference between glucose and fructose? And what about sucrose? All those -ose words are sugars including lactose, maltose, and others. My guess is that most people conflate fructose with high fructose corn syrup, but that would be wrong.

Here are the short answers to the above questions. Sucrose is table sugar, and it consists of an even balance between glucose and fructose. Both glucose and fructose can come from plants, and many sweet things combine different percentages of the two.

Naturally, things like high fructose corn syrup are going to be high in fructose. Specifically, the formulation used in soft drinks is 55% fructose. But apples and pears which contain both fructose and glucose have about twice as much fructose as they do glucose. The produce that tends to have more glucose than fructose are things like apricots and sweet corn.

Did you catch that bit about corn? As it turns out, regular corn syrup naturally falls on the heavy glucose side of the continuum. Never forget that high fructose corn syrup and old fashioned corn syrup are two completely different things.

Confused? Then do me a favor and don’t read any of the wikipedia stuff on sugars, because it will only make matters worse.

So back to the study.

It would seem to indicate that fructose fails to alert your brain as well as glucose about feeling full and satisfied. Since people tend to want to put things in stark terms of good versus bad, that would mean:

Glucose = Good
Fructose = Bad

But I don’t believe things are ever really that simple. If it were then in addition to avoiding soda you should also probably steer clear of honey, dried figs and grapes. But I don’t think fruit and pure raw honey are fueling the nation’s growing waistline.

Really, I wish I had a better understanding of organic chemistry so this all made more sense to me. However, people have been banging on the anti HFCS drum for years (myself included). I guess it’s good that more studies are coming out and verifying earlier findings.

I can’t say I’m surprised, but I’m not exactly dancing in the aisles. The report is far too general and from what I can see fails to specifically indict HFCS specifically. There’s plenty of wiggle room to let the food industry maintain business as usual. And that’s fine. I’ve grown pretty adept at avoiding the junk.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 3, 2013 11:22 am

    The spousal unit can read a medical research finding and poke all kinds of holes in it.. comes from her background in .. well.. medical research (still wishing she took that NIH job but you know.. happy vs not happy… teaching wins)..
    ANYWAY.. she tweeted this article the other day.. I still have to sit her down and ask her to explain it to me.

    My own personal opinion is that highly processed: bad (HFCS, sugar, brown sugar, agave). minimally processed: not so bad (maple syrup) Raw honey: pretty darn good.

    But then again, my waistline keeps expanding so maybe I’m missing the boat.

  2. January 3, 2013 11:33 am

    There was a good argument on my FB wall yesterday when I shared that Gizmodo article. I’m no o-chem expert, but my gut reaction to chemically isolating one particular sugar and concentrating it will give it very different metabolic properties than the naturally occurring form, even if they are “molecularly identical”. There was even the argument that 100 calories of HFCS and 100 calories of table sugar are equally fattening. That may be so, but food affects the brain like any other substance. If there’s a reduced impact on the “full meter” from HFCS, and if HFCS is only found in other food products and not as a sugar product as you mentioned, then it does stand to reason that you will eat more food containing HFCS (which has calories and fattening goodness from other ingredients than HFCS) than you might of foods not containing it. Also, given sugars also spike our “pleasure centers” to a degree, it’s also plausible that there can be a mild (if not major) addictive quality to HFCS-filled products, particularly those that list it as one of the first 4 ingredients.

  3. Michaeline permalink
    January 3, 2013 1:12 pm

    Aww come on Daniel. Everybody knows that Honey is good for you! It’s a natural antibiotic and has a hundred different ways to use it besides consuming it!

  4. January 3, 2013 6:26 pm

    That would explain, though, why fruit is not filling (well, one more reason, anyway).

  5. Ewan permalink
    January 3, 2013 7:06 pm

    Hey: we hit one of the few areas in which I will claim to be genuinely expert (my research over the past 20 years or so is about the impact of glucose and fructose on the brain and on diabetes, and more recently the links between type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and brain metabolism).

    The ‘fructose = bad’ summary is not terrible. The brain doesn’t “see” fructose because the sugar-transporters at the blood-brain barrier only transport glucose, not fructose: so satiety is caused by glucose but not fructose, hence the over-consumption of calories when they come from fructose. Conversely, the gut transporter (glucose-transporter-5 or GluT5) is especially efficint for fructose, and fructose is more easily stored as fat than is glucose because of differebnces in the enzymatic paths involved. Both of which mean that fructose is lipogenic. Honey is indeed not a healthy substance to eat much of. Sadly.

    Conversely, improvements in glucoregulation – most easily, via exercise – have huge benefits not just to the waistline but also to cognitive function.

    [Yes, sugars can be addictive; the data are unclear but it seems likely that this is dominated by hedonic pleasure from sweetness, in general - one of the problems with both fructose and (especially) artificial sweeteners is that they uncouple the link between sweetness and calories, hence messing up both hunger-satiety and pleasure-satiation.]

    Happy to expound at whatever length is desired (?) :) but I’ll cut it short now.

    • albanylandlord permalink
      January 3, 2013 11:52 pm

      Thanks, very interesting. I’ll take more…

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