DNC News


Fructose and Obesity


Subject: Over consumption of high fructose corn sweeteners may be one of the triggers to the current epidemic in obesity.



Fully twenty-five years ago I recall sitting in a lecture hall, first row, third seat from the left, listening the professor of my nutrition 101 class go off on a small tirade. She was answering a question, which I may have asked, about fructose. At that time high fructose corn syrups were just becoming popular in food manufacturing. I was a food science major, specializing in product development; I saw no downside to fructose. The corn derived fructose syrups were far cheaper than other sugar sources. Fructose tastes sweeter than sucrose lowering the number of calories needed to produce a perceived level of sweetness in a food. Most important, fructose does not stimulate insulin production so conceivably could be used by diabetics. Food scientists, a title which I aspired to at the time, thought fructose was one of the most exciting developments to come along.


I seem to have blotted out the name of the professor; she was the Department Chair and had the manner and authority that goes with the office. Whatever the lame question had been, our esteemed lecturer shifted gears and was off talking about some recent research about feeding fructose to baboons. It seems adding fructose to a baboon's diet radically changed their triglyceride and cholesterol levels, shoving them rapidly in the direction of liver problems and a heart attack. “What makes you think people are any different than baboons?” she asked. Though in memory the question has become more personal, “Mr. Schor what makes you think you are any different than a baboon?”


So it is no wonder that over these intervening years I have noticed fructose's fall from grace. Fructose, the ‘natural sweetener found in fruits, was the sweetener of choice that even health food stores use in sodas. Times have changed; pasta and bagels are no longer considered the foundation of a good diet and fructose is now blamed for no end of health problems. Not just in esoteric circles of radical Ivy League nutritionists but, heck, even in this week's AARP bulletin.

This month's issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition features a good article linking fructose consumption to the obesity epidemic. I'll paste an abstract of the article below. Part of the article's explanation as to why fructose promotes obesity is because it doesn't stimulate insulin. Without the insulin stimulation, the consumer does not feel any sense of satiety. Fructose calories don't fill people up the same way sugar does, prompting them to increase their overall caloric intake. This gives a whole new meaning to the phrase empty calories. Add this to the effect fructose has to blood lipids and heart disease risk and fructose should start to leave a bad taste in your mouth.


For other concerns about fructose see our earlier article. [click here]

Not that I am saying that sugar is good for you, but it might be safer over the long run than fructose. The dollar cost may be higher but the health cost lower.


American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 79, No. 4, 537-543, April 2004
Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity. George A Bray, Samara Joy Nielsen and Barry M Popkin

Obesity is a major epidemic, but its causes are still unclear. In this article, we investigate the relation between the intake of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and the development of obesity. We analyzed food consumption patterns by using US Department of Agriculture food consumption tables from 1967 to 2000. The consumption of HFCS increased > 1000% between 1970 and 1990, far exceeding the changes in intake of any other food or food group. HFCS now represents > 40% of caloric sweeteners added to foods and beverages and is the sole caloric sweetener in soft drinks in the United States . Our most conservative estimate of the consumption of HFCS indicates a daily average of 132 kcal for all Americans aged 2 years, and the top 20% of consumers of caloric sweeteners ingest 316 kcal from HFCS/d. The increased use of HFCS in the United States mirrors the rapid increase in obesity. The digestion, absorption, and metabolism of fructose differ from those of glucose. Hepatic metabolism of fructose favors de novo lipogenesis. In addition, unlike glucose, fructose does not stimulate insulin secretion or enhance leptin production. Because insulin and leptin act as key afferent signals in the regulation of food intake and body weight, this suggests that dietary fructose may contribute to increased energy intake and weight gain. Furthermore, calorically sweetened beverages may enhance caloric overconsumption. Thus, the increase in consumption of HFCS has a temporal relation to the epidemic of obesity, and the overconsumption of HFCS in calorically sweetened beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity.


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