High Fructose Corn Syrup: June 2004 Am. J. Clinical Nutrition article, 2008 editorial

I was reading an article in "the Wall Street Journal," (WSJ) in their Health and Wellness section for July 13th, 2010. The article discussed findings from two major medical conferences on obesity. The title of the piece was "Eating to Live or Living to Eat" with a subtitle "Why Some People Can Resist Dessert While Others Can't."

There was a lot of good material in the article, but as usual, I wanted to read the source material for myself. I've learned over the years that articles, books and presentations can often be written to fit the biases of the writer. So I'll almost always try to track down the original publications. One of the comments in the WSJ had to do with leptin, a hormone that normally helps you know when you're full.

That thread took me to an 2004 article published in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition." I view this as a seminal research study, one we're just catching up to. The authors, researchers at Loiusina State University and the University of North Carolina gave data showing the consumption of High Fructose Corn Syrup increased, in the U.S. population, ten-fold in a twenty-year period, forming 40% of caloric sweeteners added to foods and beverages.

Why is that important. Well, let's once more go back to the decision of our government to support the pesticide and fertilizer industries after WW II (I've mentioned this in prior posts) and therefore to support corn and soybean growers. That eventually led to the push for more HFCS use.

Why is that bad? The 2004 study shows the parallel increase in obesity, with a lag time of course, and discusses the problem of fructose, which is metabolized differently than ordinary sugar and therefore doesn't, via several mechanisms, including that of leptin, give you the "I've eaten enough signal."

More than that, HFCS is added to lots of foods, but especially to soft drinks. Some of the "food items" it's added to, and sodas are among those, are just "empty calories," with no real nutrient value.

The leader author of the 2004 study, Professor George A. Bray, published or co-published nine books on the subject in the last twenty years and a 2008 editiorial, in the same journal, on, "How bad is fructose?". He's also been attacked, in an online publication I just read, as someone who is paid by the pharmaceutical industry to help promote anti-obesity medications. My bet is the writer of this piece works for an non-academic concern and likely for the food industry. Dr. Bray's 2008 editorial on fructose in the same journal had the statement, "The author has no personal or financial conflict of interest."

My own take is the conclusions in his 2004 study, that HFCS is overused by our foods industries, that we should get soda machines out of our schools and reduce the portion size of sodas offered in other venues, made sense. As a nation, we're just now following some of those recommendations.

These days my wife and I read labels when we do buy processed foods and avoids foods that have HFCS. We're doing much less of this anyways, since we get farmers' market and CSA produce regularly and have our milk and eggs delivered from a local organic dairy.

What are your thoughts on this issue?

3 Responses to “High Fructose Corn Syrup: June 2004 Am. J. Clinical Nutrition article, 2008 editorial”

  1. High-fructose corn syrup is one of the substances my digestive system hates, along with artificial sweeteners. I no longer buy any products that contain HFCS, which eliminates most non-organic prepared and packaged foods from our diet. Good post, Peter.

  2. Cynthia1770 says:

    My google alert for HFCS picked up your post. I have been preaching the tyranny of HFCS for a couple of
    years. You seem like you are well read on the subject, so I will limit my treatise to one aspect of why
    I believe HFCS has led to our diminishing health---the ratio of fructose:glucose.
    HFCS-55, used to sweeten all national brands of soda and many other beverages, is 55% fructose:45% glucose. This appears to be similar to the 50:50 ratio of sucrose, until you sit down and do the math.
    55%:45% = 55/45 = 1.22. This means that in every Coke there is, compared to glucose, 22% more fructose.
    What does this mean in everday terms?
    5 HFCS-55 Cokes = 4.25 SUCROSE Cokes + 0.75pure FRUCTOSE -sweetened Coke.
    Considering the average teen chugs a few sodas daily, this is a lot of extra fructose the liver is forced to metabolize.
    The reason why the ratio yields greater than expected difference is because the the relationship is
    not linear. 50:50 = 1.00
    51:49 = 1.04
    52:48 = 1.08
    55:45 = 1.22
    57:43 = 1.32
    Since sucrose is 50:50, I do not know the real reason why the Corn Chemists at the CRA chose 55:45 as their golden ratio. I'll bet that 50:50 passed the sucrose-like sweetness taste test, but they chose to make it a
    little sweeter so the end manufacturers could use less. After all, the enzymatic conversion of glucose to
    fructose is not inexpensive. It is only through sugar tariff/corn subsidy that HFCS is so cheap soda refills
    are often free. Also, in our fettish to reduce calories, using HFCS-55 can impart the same sweetness with fewer calories. Finally, they found out that HFCS acts as a preservative. But you have to ask yourself the
    question, why would you eat or drink a substance that no self-respecting bacteria will go near?
    Whatever their reasons for choosing the ratio, they forgot or overlooked the law of solutions. In a two
    component solution, if you increase one component, by defninition the other must decrease. I believe
    our health problems have resulted from the fructose>glucose imbalance.
    Sadly, we have been swimming in excess fructose since 1984, the year that the big boys, Coke and Pepsi
    chose to abandon sugar. I was very disheartened when the AMA made the statement in 2008 that HFCS
    didn't contribute to obesity any more than sucrose. I guess The Corn Refiners Assoc. has a powerful lobby.

    I just came back from two weeks in Europe. Simply put, we don't look as good as they do. They don't useHFCS
    Take care,
    Cynthia Papierniak, M.S.

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