Fructose, in moderate amounts, has remained a part of our diet for centuries. It is a sweet tasting sugar found naturally in fruits and vegetables. Over the years, we have witnessed a forty-fold increase in our sugar consumption, primarily in the form of soft and fruit drinks, which is probably why we are now facing pathological consequences of fructose.
What is fructose?
Before we embark on our mission of understanding what high fructose corn syrup can really do to your body, lets take a moment to answer the question ‘what is fructose’?
Fructose is a simple monosaccharide sugar found naturally in foodstuff like fruits and honey. Today, added dietary sugars are the main source of fructose. In the American diet, the main sources of fructose are sucrose (containing 50% fructose) and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which contains free fructose and free glucose (55/45 proportion) (Malik & Hu 2015).
What is high fructose corn syrup?
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) was introduced for commercial use in the 1970s. It is an inexpensive alternative to other comparatively expensive sugars, which is the main factor behind its widespread commercial use.
The amount of fructose in HFCS ranges from 42 to 55 percent. The type normally used in soft drinks contains 55% fructose, the remaining being glucose. This type is called HFCS-55. The less sweeter form, HFCS-42 is used in bakery products and noncarbonated beverages.
High Fructose Corn Syrup vs Cane Sugar – Are they both same?
Sellers of fructose are clever!
A very common method of confusing consumers is by use of the umbrella term “sugars”. Many manufacturers and sellers of high fructose corn syrup present fructose as being just another form of sugar that is exactly the same as cane sugar. But are they really the same?
No – they are NOT!
Fructose metabolism is different from glucose. Metabolism of most fructose is carried out by fructokinase enzyme, which causes the phosphorylation of fructose.
In the case of glucose, the process of phosphorylation is very tightly regulated; hence no fall in ATP level (the energy molecule) is noted.
On the contrary, phosphorylation of fructose causes ATP depletion. As a result protein synthesis is affected.
The ongoing metabolic process generates uric acid, which initially rises within the cells and later in your blood circulation (Johnson et al. 2010).
Fructose is a Natural Sugar – Why is high fructose corn syrup bad for you then?
Let me make it simple for you.
Fructose is natural
High fructose corn syrup is Not Natural! How? Lets see..
Here’s something interesting.
Did you know that processed and unprocessed forms of fructose calories affect your body differently?
Yes, that’s true!
Various studies have shown that whole fruit consumption is beneficial as compared to consumption of fruit juices. The fructose present in whole fruits or vegetables is absorbed slowly due to the presence of fiber content.
On the contrary, fructose in juices or beverages is absorbed rapidly resulting in production of lipids (fats) in the liver; hence, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease ensues.
Additionally, the metabolic burden that results due to rapid absorption contributes to other metabolic defects. There is a relationship between increase fructose intake and cardiovascular disorders. Individuals who consume more than two servings a day are more likely to develop high blood pressure, lipid abnormalities, inflammation, insulin resistance, disease of heart blood vessels and even stroke (Mirtschink et al. 2017).
Is there anything else to worry about?
Yes! In fact there is much more that I haven't discussed yet.
In the United States, 1 in 4 deaths occur due to heart or blood vessel diseases. Multiple risk factors are known to cause heart disorders. Some studies have shown that post-meal elevation in blood triglyceride level gives rise to conditions that cause hardening of blood vessels (Nordestgaard et al. 2007).
Consumption of HFSC causes a post-meal increase in triglycerides and LDL-Cholesterol in young males and females. This therefore makes them prone to the development of heart and blood vessel disease (Stanhope et al. 2011).
Is inflammation of bronchial tubes (bronchitis) related to high fructose corn syrup?
I am afraid, it is!
Some research work has demonstrated a correlation between high fructose corn syrup and adult chronic bronchitis.
Adults consuming non-diet soft drinks five times a week or more are twice more likely to have this lung problem. Other research works have shown a correlation between asthma and high fructose corn syrup consumption among high-school students. The epidemiological support for these correlations is significant, although direct causal relationship hasn’t been established yet (DeChristopher et al. 2015).
Joint inflammation (arthritis) is another problem that is reported among consumers of HFCS sweetened soft drinks.
Research shows that adults who consume HFSC containing soft drinks 5 times per week or more are three times more likely to have arthritis as compared to those who consume diet soft drinks (DeChristopher et al. 2016).
As I already mentioned, high fructose corn syrup can affect your serum uric acid levels.
Adolescents who consume around 500ml of high-fructose corn syrup daily almost double their chances of increasing blood uric acid levels (hyperuricemia).
Unlike other simple sugars, fructose is the only monosaccharide sugar that exerts its influence on liver cells to carry out biochemical reactions that result in elevated uric acid in blood.
Elevated blood uric acid level is not only associated with Gout, but also with a number of other conditions related to heart, brain and kidneys (Lin et al. 2013).
So, is there a link between obesity and HFCS?
There is a lot of controversy about the use of high fructose corn syrup and many people, particularly the obese ones, are willing to understand why is high fructose corn syrup bad for them any way?
Lets see how!
The HFCS present in liquid beverages is unable to produce the level of satiety that is required to suppress intake of solid foods. So, during any subsequent meals you are likely to eat as much food as you would normally eat in your routine.
The result? The liquid beverage is providing an additional burden of calories that your body has to deal with.
Lets see how much.
A 360ml serving of liquid beverage e.g. soda, contains about 150 calories. If you add these calories to your regular diet calories, a single can of liquid beverage could, in theory, increase your weight by 5 lbs in one year. (Malik & Hu 2015).
Imagine taking two beverages or more per day!
Its totally NOT surprising that many experts refer to high fructose corn syrup as the ‘weight gain syrup’.
Whats New here?
Well, a recent research suspects that high fructose corn syrup has a possible role in intestinal cancer. Now, thats worrisome. No?
Bray, G. A. (2013). Potential health risks from beverages containing fructose found in sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. Diabetes Care, 36(1), 11-12.
DeChristopher, L. R., Uribarri, J., & Tucker, K. L. (2015). Intake of high fructose corn syrup sweetened soft drinks is associated with prevalent chronic bronchitis in US Adults, ages 20–55 y. Nutrition journal, 14(1), 107.
DeChristopher, L. R., Uribarri, J., & Tucker, K. L. (2016). Intake of high-fructose corn syrup sweetened soft drinks, fruit drinks and apple juice is associated with prevalent arthritis in US adults, aged 20–30 years. Nutrition & diabetes, 6(3), e199.
Johnson, R. J., Sanchez-Lozada, L. G., & Nakagawa, T. (2010). The effect of fructose on renal biology and disease. Journal of the American society of nephrology, 21(12), 2036-2039.
Lin, W. T., Huang, H. L., Huang, M. C., Chan, T. F., Ciou, S. Y., Lee, C. Y., ... & Liu, T. Y. (2013). Effects on uric acid, body mass index and blood pressure in adolescents of consuming beverages sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup. International journal of obesity, 37(4), 532.
Malik, V. S., & Hu, F. B. (2015). Fructose and cardiometabolic health: what the evidence from sugar-sweetened beverages tells us. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 66(14), 1615-1624.
Mirtschink, P., Jang, C., Arany, Z., & Krek, W. (2017). Fructose metabolism, cardiometabolic risk, and the epidemic of coronary artery disease. European heart journal, 39(26), 2497-2505.
Nordestgaard, B. G., Benn, M., Schnohr, P., & Tybjærg-Hansen, A. (2007). Nonfasting triglycerides and risk of myocardial infarction, ischemic heart disease, and death in men and women. Jama, 298(3), 299-308.
Stanhope, K. L., Bremer, A. A., Medici, V., Nakajima, K., Ito, Y., Nakano, T., ... & Keim, N. L. (2011). Consumption of fructose and high fructose corn syrup increase postprandial triglycerides, LDL-cholesterol, and apolipoprotein-B in young men and women. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 96(10), E1596-E1605.