Limit Fructose in Your Diet
The last 40 years of health advice has been dominated by the "eat low-fat" mantra. It was a period dominated by concerns over saturated and total fat as causes for heart attack, stroke, and cancer. It witnessed the explosion of low-fat "heart healthy" foods. It prompted low-fat cookies to be viewed as "heart healthy." It led to the American Heart Association having its Check Mark stamp of approval applied to Count Chocula® and Cocoa Puffs® breakfast cereals.
Among the many unintended consequences of the low-fat mistake was the proliferation of sweeteners in the U.S. processed food supply. "If it is low-fat, it must be healthy" goes the logic. With the blessing of "official" organizations, thousands of sugary products made it to market, replacing all the "unhealthy" food that preceded it, like eggs, vegetable oils, and meats.
In 1967, a rapid enzymatic production method permitted large-volume conversion of inexpensive-to-produce (at least with the support of government subsidies) corn syrup to corn syrup enriched with fructose. While standard corn syrup is 100% glucose (the same as blood glucose), fructose-enriched corn syrup has less glucose, more fructose. Several varieties of "high-fructose corn syrup" became available to food manufacturers: HFCS-42 and HFCS-55 are the most common, meaning that 42% or 55% is comprised of fructose, the remainder glucose.
Low-cost, prolonged shelf-life, and water-solubility of high-fructose corn syrup also proved an advantage over its less product-friendly predecessor, sucrose (table sugar). High-fructose corn syrup also proved well-suited to the countless products that blended easily into the low-fat lifestyle: spaghetti sauce, ketchup, fruit drinks and fruit juices, breads, bagels, maple syrup, cookies, beer, drink mixes, even such improbable places as dill pickles.
And consumers literally ate it all up. From a marketing standpoint, high-fructose corn syrup proved a hit. Kids and teenagers can't get enough of the super-sweetened soft drinks, often served in 32-oz super-sized portions at fast food restaurants and convenience stores, even dispensed through vending machines in schools. Adults love it too, enjoying the high-fructose but low-fat foods that make them feel "healthy," many complete with official "heart healthy" endorsements.
High-fructose corn syrup proved such a hit that it has eclipsed sucrose today as the number one sweetener added to foods in America. Buy a can of soda, flavored energy drink, low-fat salad dressing or loaf of whole grain bread and the overwhelming likelihood is that you will see high-fructose corn syrup towards the top of the list of ingredients. While in the 1960s Americans consumed around 15 grams of fructose per day from sucrose (table sugar that is 50% glucose, 50% fructose) and the modest quantities in fruits, vegetables, and dairy products, daily fructose exposure has quadrupled to an average of 60 grams per day (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2008). Many Americans, particularly kids and teenagers, consume far more, principally through their love of sweetened soft drinks.
So what? So what if high-fructose corn syrup has replaced sucrose as the primary source of dietary fructose? So what if total daily intake of fructose has increased 400%?
Here's the problem: While the U.S. government and the "official" agencies blame Americans' slothful, couch-potato tendencies, and your children's TV-watching and videogame playing habits for the nationwide epidemic of obesity and diabetes, these likely have been only minor factors. (Many people today gain weight following the conventional idea of a "healthy" diet while exercising and staying physically active. I know plenty of "healthy eating" overweight marathon runners, for example.) The major factor has been this misguided attempt to steer Americans away from fat and towards low-fat foods, now populated by products rich with high-fructose corn syrup and, thereby, fructose.
Dietary fructose, regardless of its source (i.e., high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, or foods containing fructose), while it does not increase blood glucose the same as glucose, exerts other effects:
- LDL ("bad") cholesterol is increased. The more precise apoprotein B measure of cholesterol is increased even more.
- Small LDL particles (the number one cause for heart disease in the U.S. today!) skyrockets 40% or more.
- Triglycerides increase─Not only do triglycerides increase, they stay at high levels in an abnormally sustained way, posing even greater potential for causing heart disease and stroke.
- Appetite is not suppressed, since fructose (unlike glucose) fails to trigger insulin and the appetite-suppressing hormone, leptin. Drink a fructose-sweetened beverage, you remain unsatisfied (appetite, not thirst). You will soon want more.
Ironically, the low-fat effort has therefore led to widespread delivery of this cholesterol-increasing, triglyceride-increasing, small LDL-increasing sugar.
Whether it comes from sucrose, or from high-fructose corn syrup, or from honey, fructose is proving to be a destructive food ingredient that everyone should be minimizing. And it's probably in the low-fat pretzels you're eating.