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Sipping Too Many Calories?

What's so bad about high fructose corn syrup?
Answer (Published 8/13/2004)

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a relatively recent invention of the food industry that is used to sweeten soft drinks and juices. Manufacturers began to use HFCS instead of old-fashioned corn syrup because it has a sweeter taste, blends well with other foods, maintains a longer shelf life and is cheaper. It has now become the main sweetener used in beverages. You’ll also find it in processed foods ranging from salad dressings and ketchup, to jams, jellies, ice cream and many others – even bread, of all things. HFCS contains 14-percent fructose, much more than regular corn syrup, and I am concerned about its potentially disruptive effects on metabolism. The body doesn’t utilize fructose well, and never before in history have people been consuming so much of it.

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HFCS may be to blame, at least in part, for the current epidemic of obesity in the United States. A study published in the April 2004 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition cited U.S. Department of Agriculture data showing that consumption of HFCS in the United States increased by more than 1,000 percent between 1970 and 1990. (Almost two-thirds of the HFCS consumed in this country is in beverages.) The researchers found that Americans over the age of 2 consume more than 300 calories per day from caloric sweeteners, one-sixth of the average total calorie consumption. Another study, in England, showed that over the course of a year obesity increased by 7.5 percent among a group of school children who continued to eat and drink as they habitually did during a study aimed at reducing soda consumption. In youngsters who gave up sodas, the rate of obesity stayed about the same. The study results were published in the April 24, 2004, issue of the British Medical Journal. HCFS may promote weight gain because it behaves in the body more like fat than glucose, the blood sugar derived from other sweet foods.

Some evidence suggests that fructose may also disturb liver function. And unlike glucose, fructose doesn’t appear to set in motion the process by which the body tells us it is full. Another potential danger: a study published in the November 2000 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that in men (but not women) fructose elevates triglycerides, blood fats that increase the risk of heart disease.

All told, HFCS is a bad actor and a marker of low-quality foods. My recommendation is to check labels and avoid any products containing it.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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