Dr. Robert Lustig, Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology at the University of California, has been a pioneer in decoding sugar metabolism.
He’s become quite well-known in recent years for stating that excessive amounts of sugar in your diet has toxic effects. He’s also pointed out that processed fructose is far worse, from a metabolic standpoint, than refined sugar.
Now, new research from the University of Utah confirms Dr. Lustig’s stance, showing that corn syrup is more toxic to female mice than table sugar. Not only did corn syrup adversely impact the animals’ rate of reproduction, it also caused premature death.
From a chemical standpoint, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is similar to table sugar, but it does contain higher levels of fructose.
Manufacturers have long claimed that HFCS contains at most 55 percent fructose (and 45 percent glucose). This is very close to white sugar, which contains about 50 percent fructose (and 50 percent glucose).
That said, tests have revealed that the fructose level in HFCS can reach as high as 65 percent. It is this elevated fructose level is one piece of the explanation for why HFCS is so much worse for you than refined sugar.
Corn Syrup Found to Be More Toxic Than Table Sugar
According to senior author Wayne Potts, “this is the most robust study showing there is a difference between high-fructose corn syrup and table sugar at human-relevant doses.” As reported by Reuters:
“The study showed that female mice fed a diet which contained 25 percent of calories from added fructose and glucose carbohydrates known as monosaccharides that are found in corn syrup died at a rate 1.87 times higher than female mice on a diet in which 25 percent of calories came from sucrose.
The mice on the fructose-glucose diet produced 26.4 percent fewer offspring than their counterparts on the diet containing added table sugar…
The study suggests humans, especially women, could face adverse health effects tied to consuming too much corn syrup, which is found in many processed food products…
Between 13 and 25 percent of Americans are estimated to eat diets containing 25 percent or more of calories from added sugars, according to the paper.”
According to the authors of this paper, 42 percent of the added sugar found in the US diet comes from corn syrup; 44 percent comes from sucrose. The remaining 14 percent of added sugars are in the form of natural sweeteners such as honey, molasses, and fruit. .
Worldwide however, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) accounts for only eight percent of added sugar consumption, so Americans are far more likely to consume excessive amounts of HFCS than many other nationalities, and our disease statistics tend to mirror that as well.
High fructose consumption is in fact a primary contributor to most chronic disease states, starting with insulin resistance, which can then progress into related diseases like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and more.
Heart Failure Patients with High Blood Sugar Have Higher Risk of Early Death
In related news, researchers claim that testing blood sugar levels of patients suffering heart failure can help identify those at greatest risk of death. According to the study’s lead author Dr. Douglas Lee:
“Our findings suggest that the measurement of blood sugar levels in all patients arriving at emergency departments with acute heart failure could provide doctors with useful prognostic information and could help to improve outcomes in these patients.
Among patients without pre-existing diabetes, the majority (51 percent) had blood glucose levels on arrival at hospital that were within ‘normal’ limits but greater than 6.1 millimoles per liter (mmol/L) [110 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL)].”
Among non-diabetics, the risk of death within one month of their heart failure was 26 percent higher among those with even slightly elevated blood sugar levels, compared to patients whose blood sugar levels were in the low-normal range.
Those with blood sugar levels nearing the criteria for diabetes had a 50 percenthigher risk of death within the month following their heart failure. Elevated blood sugar levels were also associated with a higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
American Agricultural Policies Promote High Disease Rates
There’s a common belief that healthy food is inherently more expensive, and thus can only be for the wealthy. But healthy food could easily be more affordable for everyone, were it not for agribusiness CEOs, their lobbyists, and the politicians in their pockets.
Both corn and sugar beet crops are heavily subsidized in the US. The reason why buying a loaf of processed white bread is cheaper than buying a pound of broccoli is directly related to agricultural subsidies, which favor all the ingredients that make up a junk food diet.
As noted by Business Insider, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) spends nearly $1.3 billion a year on subsidies for our most commonly used junk food ingredients, including corn, wheat, soy, and sugar beets.
Sugar used to be a condiment; now it’s a diet staple. According to SugarScience.org, added sugars hide in 74 percent of processed foods under more than 60 different names.
If subsidies were really based on nutritional value, then neither corn nor sugar beets would fit the bill… As it stands, agricultural subsidies are used to grown ingredients that form the very foundation of a junk food diet.
US Sugar Industry Enjoys a Particularly Sweet Deal…
Interestingly enough, processed food could be even cheaper than it already is. Not that this would necessarily be a positive thing, but it highlights the fact that processed junk foods are a real profit center—both for food industry and our politicians.
According to University of Michigan–Flint economist Mark J. Perry, US policies such as minimum price guarantees for domestic sugar, along with high tariffs for imported sugar, ends up costing American consumers about $3 billion per year in inflated processed food prices. As noted in a recent article by Reason Magazine:
“Taking candy from a baby is easy. Taking sugar from a senator? Not so much… [I]t’s not just the nation’s 3,913 sugar beet farms and 666 sugarcane farms that crave the sugar program’s artificially sweetened revenues. The program also persists because it offers a steady source of money to elected officials.
In a June 2014 report, Bryan Riley, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, noted that while sugar constitutes just two percent of the total value of US crop production, the nation’s sugar farmers account for 35 percent of the crop industry’s total campaign contributions and 40 percent of its lobbying expenditures.
Over the years, major sugar companies such as American Crystal Sugar and Florida Crystals have donated millions of dollars to individual candidates and political action committees. According to OpenSecrets.org, the industry as a whole has donated $41.7 million since 1990.”
Processed foods have become such major profit centers, food manufacturers have absolutely no incentive to switch to selling whole, unadulterated foods. I believe our food system can be changed, but only if enough people understand the simple truths of healthy eating and refuse to buy sugar-laden processed foods. Four years ago, Dr. David Ludwig, a Harvard-affiliated pediatrician, wrote a commentary in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), offering concrete suggestions to turn this disease-producing diet trend around, such as:
- Restructuring subsidies
- Regulating the marketing of food to children
- Adequately funding school lunch programs
- Using existing and future technologies to allow the food industry to retain profits while producing more healthful products
Those are all good suggestions, but while politicians debate and search for their moral compasses, I would suggest doing your own homework and changing your own diet.
Do You Know How Much Sugar You Consume Every Day?
We’ve long acknowledged that the Western diet is associated with increased rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and cancer. Yet the conventional paradigm is extremely reluctant to accept that it is the sugar content of this diet that is the primary culprit. Doctors and health officials alike are still trying to convince you that you can have your cake and eat it too, as long as it’s “in moderation.”
The crux of the problem is that if you eat a diet consisting primarily of processed foods, moderation immediately goes out the window, because virtually all processed food items contain some form of added sugar. Oftentimes, just ONE food item can contain an entire day’s worth of sugar!
Sweetened beverages may be among the worst culprits. Take Vitamin Water, for example. One 20 oz bottle contains around 30 grams of sugar, which equates to THREE Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnuts. That one bottle alone is also TWICE the daily recommended fructose allowance for people with insulin resistance, and it’s five grams over the limit for non-insulin resistant folks! On average, sugar makes up 15 percent of total calories consumed in the US (about 19.5 teaspoons per day), and your liver, which processes sugar, simply cannot handle that kind of burden.
When you overload your liver in this way, you inevitably end up with chronic metabolic disease. According to available data, the safety threshold for sugar appears to be around six to nine teaspoons (25-38 grams) of added sugar per day. Any more that, and you’re setting yourself up for an insulin resistance. And again, processed fructose tends to cause more severe metabolic dysfunction than regular sugar, in part because it’s more readily metabolized into fat than any other sugar.
The fatty acids created during fructose metabolism accumulate as fat droplets in your liver and skeletal muscle tissues, causing insulin resistance and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Insulin resistance in turn progresses to metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. The metabolism of fructose by your liver also creates a number of waste products and toxins, including a large amount of uric acid, which drives up blood pressure and causes gout.
To Avoid Chronic Disease, Be Mindful of Your Fructose Consumption
Mounting evidence clearly shows that refined sugar and processed fructose are primary factors causing obesity and chronic disease, including heart and cardiovascular disease. A paper by Yang, et al, published in JAMA Internal Medicine last year looked at consumption of added sugar over two decades, as a percentage of total calories, concluding that it significantly contributed to cardiovascular deaths. People who consumed 30 percent of their daily calories as added sugar (like many teenagers are) had a four-fold greater risk of dying from heart disease.
The evidence is quite clear: If you want to normalize your weight, and dramatically reduce your risk of diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s, you need to address your processed food consumption. Refined sugar, processed fructose, grains, and other sugar-forming starchy carbohydrates are largely responsible for your body’s adverse insulin and leptin reactions, which underlie these and other chronic disease states.
If you’re insulin/leptin resistant, have diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or are overweight, you’d be wise to limit your total sugar/fructose intake to 15 grams per day until your insulin/leptin resistance has resolved. This applies to at least half of all Americans. For all others, I recommend limiting your daily fructose consumption to 25 grams or less, to maintain optimal health. The easiest way to accomplish this is by swapping processed foods for whole, ideally organic foods.