By Dr. Mercola
A staggering two-thirds of Americans are overweight, and about one-quarter to one-third of adults fall into the obese category and it is projected to go to FIFTY percent by 2030.
The fact that obesity is now an epidemic is not up for debate. What's causing it, however, is.
One of the forerunning theories is that dramatic changes in our dietary patterns such as the extensive use of sugar, primarily in the form of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is added to virtually all processed foods, is prompting metabolic dysfunction that is making people gain weight.
Now a new study has come out claiming it has "proof" that HFCS is not to blame… but wouldn't you know it, the study's authors were funded by, or have links to, the corn industry.
No Link Between High Fructose Corn Syrup and Obesity?
The new report, published in the International Journal of Obesity, says there is no evidence to suggest that the U.S. obesity epidemic can be blamed on HFCS consumption.2 The authors reviewed existing HFCS research and concluded that there are no short-term health differences (such as weight gain, appetite, insulin or glucose levels) between the use of HFCS and sugar (sucrose), noting that both are similar in composition and absorbed identically in the GI tract.
This is the most common argument used by the corn industry to support their agenda that HFCS is safe. Sucrose (table sugar) is 50 percent glucose and 50 percent fructose. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is anywhere from 42 to 55 percent fructose depending on which type is used.
While it's true that they are similar in composition – their parts are metabolized very differently in your body. Because high-fructose corn syrup contains free-form monosaccharides of fructose and glucose, it cannot be considered biologically equivalent to sucrose, which has a glycosidic bond that links the fructose and glucose together, and which slows its break down in the body.
Even if this obvious metabolic difference were not present, it is important to point out that glucose is the form of energy your body is designed to run on. Every cell in your body uses glucose for energy, and it's metabolized in every organ of your body; about 20 percent of glucose is metabolized in your liver. Fructose, on the other hand, can only be metabolized by your liver, because your liver is the only organ that has the transporter for it.
Fructose is the Real Culprit
Since all fructose gets shuttled to your liver, and, if you eat a typical Western-style diet, you consume high amounts of it, fructose ends up taxing and damaging your liver in the same way alcohol and other toxins do. And just like alcohol, fructose is metabolized directly into fat – not cellular energy, like glucose.
While in times of complete glycogen depletion (i.e. post work-out or true hunger), fructose can be used to replenish these stores, any excess will mostly be converted to fat. So, eating fructose in excess of the very small amount our body can handle is really like eating fat – it just gets stored in your fat cells, which leads to mitochondrial malfunction, obesity and obesity-related diseases.
So both sugar and HFCS play a role in the obesity epidemic, but it's important to understand that the claim you hear on TV, that "sugar is sugar" no matter what form it's in, is a misstatement that can, quite literally, kill you – albeit slowly.
The more fructose a food contains, and the more total fructose you consume, the worse it is for your health.
It's important to note that both sugar and HFCS are problematic, as they both contain similar amounts of fructose, the true culprit. But the reason why HFCS may, in fact, be even worse than table sugar, despite having similar fructose content, is both due to the aforementioned difference in metabolizing it (sucrose's glycosidic bond) and due to its liquid form. When you consume fructose in liquid form, such as drinking a soda, it places an even more intense burden on your liver. The effect on your liver is not only sped up but also magnified.
Cost Is King
Even if one were to ignore the evidence reviewed above and accept the corn industry's argument that there is no significant biochemical difference between the fructose in HFCS and regular table sugar, one can't escape the quantity argument. There is simply no defense against it. In the mid '70s, Japanese scientists discovered how to manufacture HFCS cheaply from corn. Because it is so cheap it is used in massive quantities.
Fructose in small quantities is relatively harmless. Our ancestors would typically consume some on a regular basis, typically in the form of fruits, but they would rarely consume it in quantities greater than 15 grams (one tablespoon) a day. Now the average intake is FIVE times that at 75 grams and some people consume more than 10 times that amount. At those levels fructose becomes a pernicious liver and metabolic toxin.
Another Case of Industry-Funded Propaganda?
But here is where it gets really interesting. There are actually clever forces at work behind the scenes that have carefully orchestrated this information to deceive you and the rest of the public. So why does this new study make it sound like HFCS has been nothing more than an unfortunate scapegoat in this whole scenario?
As I have explained in a previous video, it is usually helpful to examine who authored the study, and where their funding and true loyalties lie. And in this case, doing so proved to be very revealing. Research shows that industry funding of nutrition-related scientific articles may bias conclusions in favor of sponsors' products, with potentially significant implications for public health.3
This is now becoming widely accepted, so much so that still more research found physicians are less likely to believe and act on research findings when they are industry-sponsored.4 If that's the case, many may have a hard time believing the featured HFCS/obesity study. There are four authors to the featured study: lead author James M. Rippe and co-authors David M. Klurfeld, John Foreyt, and Theodore J. Angelopoulos. Each one has his own ties to industry, making for a very concerning conflict of interest:
- Rippe: Disclosed in the journal that he and his Rippe Lifestyle Institute had received research grants and consulting fees from a variety of companies and organizations including ConAgra, Kraft Foods, PepsiCo, Weight Watchers and the Corn Refiners Association. He also disclosed in other research completed in 2012 that he has received funding from the Corn Refiners Association.5
Rippe also is an advisor to the food and beverage industry. On his health website he lists ConAgra and PepsiCo as two of several "partners." He also disclosed in a press release on this most recent study that he is an advisor to the food and beverage industry including the Corn Refiners Association, "which funded this research with an unrestricted educational grant."
- Foreyt: Disclosed in the study that he is a member of the scientific advisory panel of the Corn Refiners Association.6
- Klurfeld: Is a scientific and policy advisor on the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH),7 which has published material criticizing the "demonizing of high fructose corn syrup."8
- Angelopoulos: Is the author of at least one other study vindicating HFCS – which was funded by PepsiCo.9 Plus he got a $200,500 research grant from Rippe Health and Lifestyle Institute for "consulting services."10
How Sensitive are You to Fructose?
Some people may be able to process fructose more efficiently than others, and the key to assess this susceptibility to fructose-induced damage lies in evaluating your uric acid levels. The higher your uric acid, the more sensitive you are to the effects of fructose. The safest range of uric acid appears to be between 3 and 5.5 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl), and there appears to be a steady relationship between uric acid levels and blood pressure and cardiovascular risk, even down to the range of 3 to 4 mg/dl.
Dr. Richard Johnson suggests that the ideal uric acid level is probably around 4 mg/dl for men and 3.5 mg/dl for women. I would strongly encourage everyone to have their uric acid level checked to find out how sensitive you are to fructose.
Many people who are overweight likely have uric acid levels well above 5.5. Some may even be closer to 10 or above. Measuring your uric acid levels is a very practical way to determine just how strict you need to be when it comes to your fructose consumption.
The major problem with fructose lies in the excessive amounts so many people consume. And fructose has actually been linked to over 70 health conditions in the biomedical literature, indicating that this is far bigger than just a "weight problem."11
It's no secret that we are eating more sugar than at any other time in history. In 1700, the average person ate four pounds of sugar a year. Today, about 25 percent of all Americans consume over 134 grams of fructose a day, according to Dr. Johnson's research.
For most people, including if you're overweight or obese, it would actually be wise to limit your fruit fructose to 15 grams or less, as you're virtually guaranteed to get "hidden" fructose from just about any processed food you might eat, including condiments you might never have suspected would contain sugar.
Keep in mind that fruits also contain fructose, although an ameliorating factor is that whole fruits also contain vitamins and other antioxidants that reduce the hazardous effects of fructose. Again, one way to determine just how strict you need to be in regard to fruit consumption is to check your uric acid levels. If your levels are outside the healthy ranges listed above, then I strongly suggest you listen to your body's biochemical feedback and reduce your fructose consumption, including that from fruit, until your uric acid levels normalize.
Bonus Weight Loss Tips You Might Not Have Heard of
For the majority of people, severely restricting non-vegetable carbohydrates such as sugars, fructose, and grains in your diet will be the key to weight loss. Refined Carbohydrates like breakfast cereals, bagels, waffles, pretzels, and most other processed foods quickly break down to sugar, increase your insulin levels, and cause insulin resistance, which is the number one underlying factor of nearly every chronic disease and condition known to man, including weight gain.
As you cut these dietary villains from your meals, you need to replace them with healthy substitutes like vegetables and healthy fats (including natural saturated fats!). You will probably need to radically increase the amount of high-nutrient, low-carbohydrate vegetables you eat, as well as make sure you are also consuming protein and healthy fats regularly.
I've detailed a step-by-step guide to this type of healthy eating program in my comprehensive nutrition plan, and I urge you to consult this guide if you are trying to lose weight.
Next, you'll want to add in proper exercise. The key to boosting weight loss and getting the most out of your exercise routine is to make sure to incorporate high-intensity, short-burst-type exercises, such as my Peak Fitness Program, two to three times per week. Several studies have confirmed that exercising in shorter bursts with rest periods in between burns more fat than exercising continuously for an entire session.
Now here's the bonus: A growing body of research suggests that intermittent fasting may in fact be a key weight loss tool. It appears particularly powerful when combined with exercise – i.e. working out while in a fasted state. Intermittent fasting is not the same thing as starving yourself; it can be as simple as skipping breakfast. You can find more details on intermittent fasting here.