Food scientists have long suspected that all sugar is not created equal. Now, a study has shown for the first time that fructose, a sugar found in thousands of food products, could be more harmful than other types of sugar.
Specifically, brain imaging tests conducted during the study indicated that fructose can trigger brain changes that may lead to overeating. After drinking a beverage containing fructose, the scans show that the brain doesn’t register the feeling of being full as it does when simple glucose is consumed.
This was a small study and it can’t be considered definitive proof of the effects of consuming fructose. But it does add evidence to the growing belief that fructose – especially high-fructose corn syrup, or HFCS – is a significant contributor to the rising rate of obesity in the United States.
If so, this finding could provide a key to significantly reducing the epidemic of overeating and obesity that has occurred over the past four decades.
The study, which appeared in last week’s Journal of the American Medical Association, found that magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, scans showed that drinking glucose “turns off or suppresses the activity of areas of the brain that are critical for reward and desire for food.” In other words, despite consuming a high level of calories from fructose, people still were hungry.
Fructose is found in plants, including most fruits and root vegetables. It is found in naturally high concentrations in fruit juices.
Sucrose, or table sugar, is half fructose, half glucose. High fructose corn syrup usually is 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose.
HFCS, because it is cheaper to produce and in many ways easier to use than other sugars, and because corn production is subsidized by the government, now is as common as sucrose in the American diet. It is, for example, the primary sweetener in soft drinks, far surpassing sucrose.
The HFCS industry has fought back against suggestions that its product is different in any way from other sugars. Industry officials contend that a calorie is a calorie when sugar is involved.
But the increased use of HFCS as a sweetener in foods and drinks coincides with soaring consumption of those products since the 1970s. And that phenomenon also coincides with the rise in obesity and diabetes.
While the connection remains tenuous at this point, studies such as the one released Wednesday strongly suggest a link between consumption of fructose – especially HFCS –and obesity. If, indeed, fructose promotes hunger, it actually could be the root of the obesity epidemic.
Again, it probably is premature to assume that. But if further studies back up that contention, then regulation of fructose might be appropriate.
That would not be unprecedented. Trans fats, or partially hydrogenated fats, once prevalent in processed foods, now are almost nonexistent on the grocery shelves.
Meanwhile, those who are trying to lose weight and cut empty calories should make a special effort to reduce or eliminate HFCS and even fruit juices from their diets. It could make a big difference.
From The Herald