Sugar and High Fructose Corn Syrup
Sugar – Because We Love Dessert
Sugar! If it didn’t grow naturally, our cave dwelling predecessors would have invented it before coming up with the wheel or a way to control fire. We love sugar. We invented a holiday just so that we could have a day to collect sugary treats. Yes, Halloween is for kids to dress up in fun or scary costumes and wind their way through the neighborhood. But when was the last time you confiscated your children’s candy because it was “just too much” only to hide it in your dresser for later consumption?
If our sugar intake was limited to Halloween, or to the occasional candy, pastry, cake or ice cream, we would be okay. But sugar or its famous substitute, high fructose corn syrup, is found in almost everything we eat. Go to your pantry and read the ingredients on your boxed or canned foods. It will be difficult to find foods that do not have sugar, corn syrup, corn sweetener, fruit juice concentrate or high fructose corn syrup added to them. Soft drinks contain loads of sugar. Fruit juices have sugar added to them to enhance their taste. Sugar is even in some French Fries and pasta sauces.
What is Sugar?
Sugar is a broad term that includes a wide range of simple carbohydrates, but our focus is on table sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Table sugar or refined sugar is sucrose, a combination of fructose and glucose. It comes from sugar cane or sugar beets. High fructose corn syrup or corn syrup is chemically made from corn starch to glucose and from glucose to a combination of fructose and glucose. There are two basic types of high fructose corn syrup: HFCS 55 (55% fructose and 42% glucose) which can be found in many soft drinks, and HFCS 42 (42% fructose and 55% glucose) which can be found in food. Table sugar, by comparison, is 50% fructose and 50% glucose.
What’s wrong with sugar?
Most studies have found a direct link to sugar and obesity. The problem is the fructose portion of sugar. Fructose consumption tends to increase visceral body fat, one of the symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome; where glucose consumption favors subcutaneous fat. In a recent study, obese or overweight men and women in their mid-fifties ingested twenty-five percent of their calorie intake as either glucose or fructose over a two week period. Both groups increased weight, body fat and waist circumference. However, the fructose fed participants showed a much greater increase in visceral fat, greater hepatic de novo lipogenesis (the process of turning carbohydrate into fat in the liver), an increase in small dense LDL concentrations (associated with atherogenesis or plaque growing in the arteries) and decreased insulin sensitivity.
The biggest difference between glucose and fructose is that glucose is regulated by existing energy levels and fructose metabolism is not. Fructose does not require insulin for the initial steps of its liver metabolism which means it is digested without the normal sugar regulating hormone.
The News Isn’t All Bad
The evidence against eating refined sugars is great but not all researchers are convinced. Some research found no direct evidence that links obesity to fructose in amounts less than 100 grams a day. And a moderate dose, less than 50 grams a day, had no negative change on fasting or postprandial (after eating) triglycerides, glucose control and insulin resistance. And the ingestion of fructose, rather than glucose, before and during exercise, may delay fatigue.
Should I Stop Eating Sugar?
Sugar is not a scourge that was put on this earth to punish us for past sins. You will not need to flagellate yourself the next time you eat a donut. The problem is not that sugar is all bad, it’s that we eat way too much of it. One twelve ounce soft drink contains approximately forty grams of sugar. Fruit juices often have as much or more sugar. That is the amount of sugar the USDA recommends we consume in one day. On average, we eat more than twice as much as that a day. This excess sugar intake has consequences.
Be aware of your sugar intake. Read labels and keep track of the sugar or sugar substitutes added to your foods. Drink fewer soft drinks and skip dessert once in a while. In addition to the benefits set forth above, you will eat fewer calories. Losing weight or maintaining your current weight may begin with one less pastry.
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