Updated: Mar 3, 2019
It’s everywhere. You find it hidden in places that you least expect it. It sweetens everything from your soft drinks, fruit juices, sports drinks, and it’s hidden in almost all processed foods—from bologna to pretzels to Worcestershire sauce to cheese spread. And now most infant formula has it too (about as much as a can of Coca-Cola). It’s in everything from ketchup to candy, and it’s touted by the industry as being the same as sugar. They even go so far as to say that the body does not know the difference between sugar and fructose. But, as you will see, that is a blatant, shameful lie.
Neither sugar nor fructose is your friend, in fact, there is an abundance of research suggesting that it is not only extremely bad for your health, but it will kill you too. Yes, science has now shown us, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that sugar in your food, in all its myriad forms, is taking a devastating toll on your health, and your ability to lose weight. And it’s time you heard the truth about it.
But, we have always eaten sugar right? Well, in a way yes, however in the 1700’s the average person consumed about 4 pounds of sugar a year. As sugar became more available it gradually became more popular in our food supply, by 1800, the average person consumed about 18 pounds of sugar per year, a 4 fold increase. By the 1900’s, individual consumption had risen to 90 pounds of sugar per year.
In 2009, more than 50 percent of all Americans consume one-half pound of sugar PER DAY—translating to a 170 pounds of sugar per year. That’s a 45 fold increase since the 1700’s!
It gets worse. In the early 1980s, processed food makers began sweetening their foods with high fructose corn syrup after sugar began gaining a bad reputation. High Fructose Corn Syrup, also known as HFCS was used primarily because it was cheaper and then the manufacturer could claim low sugar. But that added more sugar to the diet, just under a different name. Now the average person consumes 70 grams of fructose each day – 300 percent above the recommended amount.
But fruit has fructose in it right? So it must be good! Well, before we villianize fructose in fruit, let’s talk about how it works within the body. Fruit has fiber in it. This fruit fiber actually slows the absorption of the fructose, allowing the body to handle it at a more reasonable and natural rate. What’s more, fructose in fruit is mixed in with vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and beneficial phytonutrients, all which moderate the negative metabolic effects. This isn’t to say, however, that you can consume as much as you want. Steve Jobs proved that with his fruit only diet.
So why is HFCS so unhealthy? The answer actually lies in the way it is metabolized or digested, rather than how similar it is in sweetness to sugar. In effect, the physiological problems of fructose metabolism extend well beyond whether it mimics sugar in its sweetness.
Fructose does many bad things. For instance, it elevates uric acid, which decreases nitric oxide, raises angiotensin, and causes your smooth muscle cells to contract, thereby raising your blood pressure and potentially damaging your kidneys. Increased uric acid also leads to chronic, low-level inflammation, which has far-reaching consequences for your health, including gout for starters. This chronic inflammation also leads to chronically inflamed blood vessels, which leads to heart attacks and strokes. There is also a good deal of evidence that some cancers are caused by chronic inflammation.
Fructose also tricks your body into gaining weight by fooling your metabolism—it is able to turn off your body's appetite-control system, urging you to eat more. True, fructose does not appropriately stimulate insulin like sugar does. But it also does not suppress ghrelin (the "hunger hormone") and doesn't stimulate leptin (the "satiety hormone"), which together result in you eating more and developing insulin resistance anyway. In other words, both sugar and fructose fail to turn off your hunger brakes. So you just don’t stop eating.
Fructose metabolism is actually very similar to ethanol metabolism, which has a multitude of toxic effects, including NAFLD (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease). Essentially, it's alcohol without the buzz. That means that part of what makes High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) so unhealthy is that it is metabolized to fat in your body far more rapidly than any other sugar. The entire burden of metabolizing fructose falls on your liver, and it promotes a particularly dangerous kind of body fat, namely adipose fat. Adipose fat is the type of fat that is associated with a greater risk of heart disease, it’s also the type of fat that ruins your bathing suit look. Additionally, because most fructose is consumed in liquid form (i.e. soda and sweetened beverages of all kinds), its negative metabolic effects are magnified. Because while HFCS has about the same amount of fructose as cane sugar, the fructose in HFCS is in its "free" form and not attached to any other carbs, that means its absorbed faster, no brakes.
One of the more recent findings that has surprised researchers is that glucose actually accelerates fructose absorption, making the potential health risks from HFCS even more profound, namely because fructose is essentially half glucose.
That fact alone makes fructose the number one contributing factor to the current obesity epidemic, but it is also a main driver of most inflammatory disease, along with its bad cousin, sugar.
It doesn’t end there of course. Fructose can trash more than just your liver and make you obese. Fructose also contributes to insulin resistance, making you more prone to diabetes. It elevates your triglycerides and you bad cholesterol, the small aggressive LDL, the really, really bad ones that cause people under 50 to have heart attacks! Fructose elevates your blood pressure, depletes your vitamins and minerals (unbound fructose interferes with your hearts use of minerals such as magnesium, copper and chromium) and, as mentioned leads to greater incidence of gout, heart disease and cancer.
Just when you think it cannot get any worse, HFCS is made from GMO corn! GMO foods have their additional set of well documented side effects that harm your health and inflame your allergies.
The take away point is that every cell in your body, including your brain, utilizes glucose for a fuel. Sugar, in the form of glucose, is so usable that your body will preferentially burn sugar over fat as a fuel. Most of the sugar in the form of glucose can be "burned up" immediately after you consume it. By contrast, fructose is turned into free fatty acids (free floating fat), cholesterol (the most damaging form), and triglycerides, which then gets stored as fat. Some of that fat gets stored in the liver, some in the muscles, but all of it can cause insulin resistance leading to metabolic syndrome and type II diabetes (Scientific part: fructose is considered the most lipophilic carbohydrate. In other words, fructose converts to activated glycerol (g-3-p), which is directly used to turn free fatty acids into triglycerides. The more g-3-p you have, the more fat you store. Glucose does not do this).
That means when you eat 120 calories of glucose, less than one calorie is stored as fat. Yet when you eat 120 calories of fructose, it results in 40 calories being stored as fat.
So, if anyone tries to tell you "sugar is sugar," they are either misinformed or misdirecting you. As you can see, there are major differences in how your body processes each one. The bottom line is: fructose leads to increased fat, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome -- not to mention the long list of chronic diseases already mentioned.
If you, like so many others, have struggled with your weight for years; examined your diet; avoided fat and counted your calories, yet find you are not getting anywhere and wondering what you're doing wrong, it could be that hidden fructose. Whether natural fructose (such as agave syrup or 100 percent fruit juice), or in the form of corn syrup (or high fructose corn syrup), which is a main ingredient in countless beverages and processed, pre-packaged foods; it is there, lurking in your food and hindering your progress.
Obviously, one of the easiest things you can do to quickly improve your health is to eliminate everything with fructose, sugar or syrup in the label. That means all soda, all processed foods, and all white flour products. You need to just eat whole foods, nothing processed or packaged. But beware, the manufacturers of these products know the consumer is wising up, so every now and then they change the name of the product around to keep you fooled. Fructose becomes crystalline fructose or high fructose corn syrup is abbreviated to HFCS or, its new name “isolated fructose” allowing the company to state on the front of the box, no high fructose corn syrup! You may also see it as HFCS-55, or HFCS-90, meaning there is either 55% or 90% fructose in it. But at 90%, they can call it fructose or fructose syrup, so they don’t have to say HFCS. Tricky, but legal.
If you need to sweeten your foods, use something more natural such as stevia or dextrose, but keep in mind that too much of any sweetener is a bad thing. Once you have eliminated these things from your diet, along with too much sugar, you will see better results.