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Not All Sugar is Equal

Thursday, June 21, 2012

No matter what your diet paradigm, most of us would agree the processed foods aren't doing anybody any good. Americans are fatter and unhealthier than ever. The biggest growing industry in America is healthcare. There's something disturbing about that. A lot of jobs are based on a lot of people being sick. It's cause and effect.

It's one thing to say obesity is hereditary or due to fast food when you're an adult, but what about children? There are obese toddlers today. Type 2 diabetes used to be called adult onset diabetes. Not anymore. There are now pre-adolescents with insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes, so they have changed the name.

I went to school in the 80s and 90s. There were a handful of kids who were considered 'chubby'. There was one girl in my high school who was morbidly obese. I found out recently she had a heart attack at 35.

Kids are far, far heavier than they were back in my school days. This wasn't back in the good old days of the Greatest Generation. I'm a GenXer. This was just two decades ago.

This is not just genetics. It just doesn't happen that fast. It's not just that kids are more sedentary. I'm the "Nintendo" generation, and parents complained that we didn't get enough exercise either. Except few of us were morbidly obese. Not like today.

I've traveled around the world and one of the things I do is study the way people eat. S. Korea, Spain and France are all very different places, but have a few things in common. The populations as a whole are thinner than America. They eat a lot of starch and carbs (rice, potatoes and bread), but they don't have a problem with weight. They also eat a lot of meat and fat (cheese and real butter), and they also don't have a problem with weight. So they are neither low carb, nor are they low fat.

So why are they overall thinner? Why is obesity and morbid obesity prevalent here, and not there?

Could it be the sugar?

"Wait, wait", you say. "What about the French and their pastries? Don't they use sugar?"

Good point. French pastries, oh so buttery, flakey and lightly sweet. The so called French paradox. Butter, cheese, and wine, and yet they are seemingly walking exemplars of health, mocking the rest of us by living longer. Darn them.

I saw the French bakeries working by about 5am every morning. Their bakeries were rolling, kneading, and baking breads and pastries fresh. Every single morning, except one or two days where they were closed. Every piece of bread was freshly made that morning. Once they sold out of something, that was it for the day. The loaves of bread that weren't sold that day were tomorrow's croutons and bread slices for the onion soup.

My theory? They don't use high fructose corn syrup. They use real sugar.

In Asia, their baked goods are much less sweet overall. They rarely drink beverages like Coke. Their Coke cans were these miniature 6oz cans, and I saw people share with friends. Compare with Americans who regularly down 16oz plastic bottles, or 32oz Big Gulps.

There's a marketing campaign going around where the food industry is promoting that HFCS is sugar, and is metabolized just like sugar.

This is not true. High fructose is not metabolized like sucrose. It's not even metabolized like natural fructose. Chemistry was never one of my strongest subjects, so I'll struggle a bit to explain it, but basically it has to do with their compound chains. Sugars are made of part fructose, part glucose. In table sugar, these chains are held together with a water molecule. Fructose/glucose is broken apart with an enzyme called sucrase that separates the water molecule off. The glucose can then be used immediately. Fructose has to be broken down further in the liver.

In HFCS, the chains are not linked. Glucose and Fructose, unlike sucrose, are not chemically bound to each other. They are free floating.

HFCS and table sugar are both glucose and fructose, but differ in the link. Table sugar is 50/50 fructose/glucose. HFCS is commonly 55/45. Less HFCS is needed than table sugar to make something taste sweet.

My source is this study: www.princeton.edu/main/n

Using less seems like it should be better, but something is wrong. If less HFCS is used then table sugar, shouldn't we be thinner? Maybe HFCS raises our blood sugar faster somehow. Less is needed to make us just as fat.

Our bodies must maintain a neutral blood sugar. Our pancreas releases insulin to lower rising blood sugar. Some of this gets used, but then the body starts trying to shove excess sugars into cells in order to get rid of it. Over time, some cells stop responding to insulin cues to remove the sugar from the blood stream, and this becomes insulin resistance. Once this damage is done, it is permanent. You can control it and manage it, but you'll never have the same tolerance again. As say, when you were a teenager and you could down bottles of Coke and pizza and not gain a pound.

My working theory is Asians, French and Spanish enjoy their seemingly high loads of rice, bread, and potatoes because of limited use of HFCS. They have lower insulin resistance overall because their cells are largely undamaged due to low fructose consumption. They buy whole made ingredients. Because they are fresh, they don't have a long shelf life as they aren't loaded with preservatives.

If you think the preservatives aren't harmful, consider this. A lot of processed packaged foods are loaded with phosphates as preservatives. This is what makes convenience foods shelf stable. Lots of Americans drink skim milk. Vitamin D is fat soluable. Calcium is water soluble, but fat is calcium soluble, meaning excess calcium will attract fat molecules that do not get absorbed and flush out of the body. Skim milk is liquidized calcium and vitamin D that can't be absorbed. When a person suffers from kidney stones, what are the kidney stones primarily made of? Calcium and phosphate is the most common type.

- Additional info added about the HFCS and sucrose chains.
- Correction about calcium absorption.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    I just discovered this blog thanks to your current blog - sorry I missed it before but so glad I've read it now - great info and thanks for including the link to the Princeton research. Definitely adds a lot of credibility to the issue!

    3104 days ago

    Comment edited on: 7/23/2012 9:31:56 AM
    Great blog and analysis.....as with many things as I get smarter about the relationship between carbs & fats, the actual chemistry matters.

    It stands to reason that different types of sugars are metabolized differently and there fore put your body in a different state of equilibrium.....one where you store more fat in your "steady state"

    3136 days ago
    We try to get our kids out as often as possible. I take them for walks with me and they're both pretty fit. One of the other parents from kindie was amazed to hear our younger boy (3 years old) managed a 2 and a half hour walk up Mount Cargill. Get helthy ideas into them early and set them up for life.
    3136 days ago

    Comment edited on: 6/21/2012 5:22:31 PM
    That is so true! I remember going crazy for McDonald's french fries when I was a kid. When I tasted some a few years back, they tasted different somehow. I didn't understand why I used to like them. Turns out the fries I had when I was a kid were cooked with tallow. The formula they use these days is vegetable oil with beef extract. It's not the same.
    3136 days ago

    Comment edited on: 6/21/2012 4:15:16 PM
    Speaking of Twinkies... the Twinkies they make today ARE NOT the Twinkies of my youth. A co-worker of mine brought in a package and offered me one. Since I hadn't had one in many many years, I tried it. Needless to say, I was really disappointed. You could taste how artificial it was.

    That's another reason I stay away from most junk food like say KFC. it just doesn't taste the way I remember it from my youth. And like your other blog, my taste buds remember.


    PS - Yes, read the End of Overeating and if you're looking for a really good book, try Mindless Eating by Wansink. Now that was an eyeopening book.
    3136 days ago

    Comment edited on: 6/21/2012 4:11:27 PM
    Karen: I agree with you on the portion sizes in Europe. They are smaller than Americans. Overall, I found food in Europe much more satisfying on a smaller plate than oversized American portions. The reason is because the European places I went to used real ingredients, and flavors. You didn't need to eat until you burst. American restaurants generally use poor quality ingredients, and use tricks with salt, sugar and MSG to make them hyperpalatable.

    My British nephew said something interesting about Twinkies that we brought him one time. He said, "They don't taste good, but I can't stop eating them anyway." I think that generally sums up why American cuisine has such a bad reputation around the world. It doesn't taste good, and it makes you fat.

    Have you read "The End of Overeating"? It's a very good book that discusses how American restaurants have formulated poor quality food into "hyperpalatable" monstrosities.
    3136 days ago

    Comment edited on: 6/21/2012 3:48:47 PM
    Here's something I noticed from my own travels overseas, European portions (excluding Britain) aren't gut busting. In France, Holland and Italy, I ate smaller portions of good quality food. In Rome, you could see locals munching on a piece of fruit as they walked along the street. They also sat down to meals. People savored their food. Unlike Americans who can inhale a meal like a Hoover. If someone had a pastry or gelato, it was one small pastry with their espresso, not two or three through the day.

    While it's true that the obesity epidemic does seem to correspond to an increase in the use of artificial sweeteners, it also corresponds to an increase in portion sizes. The 1980s saw the rise of super sizing !

    When I was a kid, back in the Dark Ages, it was considered a real treat to go to a McDonalds or Jack in the Box. My family had to get in the car and drive to one of these places. So, it was a thrill to get a taco.

    At school, there were no soda vending machines. If you wanted a soda, you had to bring your own or to to the local grocery store. Today ? You're probably within walking distance of a McDonalds, Taco Bell, KFC, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, etc... Not only is sugar in everything, fast food is everywhere.

    Here's my list of the things that have contributed to the increase of the American waistline.

    1) increased portion sizes
    2) expansion of fast food restaurants
    3) increase in sugar, salt and fat in processed foods
    4) no more sit down meals as a nuclear family
    5) decrease in over all physical activity

    Shoot, before remote controls, a person at least had to GET UP out of their chair to change the channel ! We've become way too sedentary. Moms of the world had it right when they told their kids,"go outside and play".

    3136 days ago
    Regarding the female rats:

    "3.3. Female rats with 7 months of HFCS access gain significantly more body weight, have more abdominal fat and elevated TG levels compared with chow- and sucrose-fed controls"

    While they had more body weight, HFCS did not alter the triglyceride and insulin levels as dramatically as the male rats. This could be why men statistically have higher risk for heart disease.

    From the graph, the difference is more dramatic in male rats. But this is just another way of showing that women are biologically inclined towards fat gain. Sux. =/
    3136 days ago

    Comment edited on: 6/21/2012 3:29:42 PM
    That study is very interesting! Thanks for sharing!

    This part at the end caught my eye:

    "...HFCS causes aberrant insulin functioning, in that it bypasses the insulin-driven satiety system. Whereas circulating glucose increases insulin release from the pancreas, fructose does this less efficiently, because cells in the pancreas lack the fructose transporter. Typically, insulin released by dietary sucrose inhibits eating and increases leptin release, which in turn further inhibits food intake. As previously discussed, meals of HFCS have been shown to reduce circulating insulin and leptin levels. Thus, fructose intake might not result in the degree of satiety that would normally ensue with a meal of glucose or sucrose, and this could contribute to increased body weight."

    I think this is why I find my homemade cookies with real butter, sugar and flour are overall much more satisfying than the store bought cookies. I don't overeat my homemade cookies. I have a sweet tolerance that shuts off, and I just don't want anymore. But I can binge on store bought cookies, even if they don't taste very good.

    I hope that research will be taken seriously on this. However, I'm not going to wait for them to come to an agreement. I think the rise of metabolic disorder and cardiovascular disease in the United States is due to a two-fold change in the diet from the 70s:

    1: Hydrogenated vegetable oils
    2: High fructose corn syrup

    Scientists have backed away from hydrogenated vegetable oils. I hope they'll come around sooner rather than later to HFCS.
    3136 days ago

    Comment edited on: 6/21/2012 2:32:22 PM
    As you pointed out, S. Korea, France and Spain do not eat as much sugar overall as we do, regardless of the type, so they don't serve as good control populations for figuring out if it's the *type* of sugar rather than the overall *amount* of sugar which is important. There aren't any populations I know of who eat as much sugar as we do, but in a different form.

    The closest thing is probably the original study the summary refers to (without citing). You can see it here: http://www.foodpolitics.com/wp-cont
    One of their experiments actually did a head-to-head comparison of HFCS to sucrose, and this is what they found:

    Male rats with daily 12-h HFCS access gain more weight in 8 weeks
    than animals with equal access to sucrose

    Animals with 12-h 8% HFCS access gained significantly more weight
    in 8 weeks than animals with 12-h 10% sucrose access (F(2,25)=3.42;
    pb0.05). Even though the 12-h HFCS group gained significantly more
    body weight, they were ingesting fewer calories from HFCS than the
    sucrose group was ingesting from sucrose (21.3±2.0 kcal HFCS vs.
    31.3±0.3 kcal sucrose; F(1,16)=12.14; pb0.01). There was no
    overall difference in total caloric intake (sugar plus chow) among
    the sucrose group and two HFCS groups.

    They did not report a statistical difference between the head-to-head comparisons of sucrose vs HFCS in female rats.

    The statistical difference in weight gain for the male rats does support the assertion that something is different between sucrose and HFCS.

    It will be interesting to watch this field as more data roll in.

    In the meantime, I'll continue to avoid foods with any kind of added sugar, and starchy foods, as they seem to make me want moar. LOL
    3136 days ago
    Great blog!
    3136 days ago
    4A-HEALTHY-BMI: That is what I'm suggesting. S. Korea, France and Spain do not eat HFCS, and their populations do not have the same issues with insulin resistance and obesity that Americans do. Asians in particular are the lowest sugar consuming population overall.

    Everyone who eats processed food is eating more sugar because of the switch to low-fat. Try making a cookie without fat - it tastes terrible. So manufacturers replaced fats with more sugar to make it taste better. More HFCS, that is. Anywhere there is processed food, there is probably HFCS in it. Even Wonder Bread.

    I remember that Spark article. I agree with Becky that lowering overall sugar consumption is good all around. However, I respectfully disagree that there isn't a difference. Read the Princeton study I linked if you get the chance. HFCS fructose/glucose chains are not the same as sucrose.

    Lower concentrations of HFCS tastes more sweet than the equivalent amount of table sugar because it has more fructose. Thus less HFCS can be used to sweeten soda than cane sugar (which is why manufacturers like it: cost). Shouldn't using less mean less weight gain? This isn't happening. Something IS different.
    3136 days ago

    Comment edited on: 6/21/2012 11:23:31 AM
    Thanks for sharing.
    3136 days ago
    It's weird that no one has yet been able to document any hormonal differences between consuming HFCS and any other form of sugar.

    Most nutritionists seem to think that the obesity and diabetes changes in the population are due to too much sweet and processed stuff in general.

    It just so happens that the most frequent sweetener in the past few decades has been HFCS - so they're saying EVERYTHING is extra sweetened lately, and we'd be seeing the same problems if it were cane sugar being added. At least that's the party line I'm reading, including right here on SP:


    Too bad there isn't a control population somewhere eating a similar amount of sugar as us, but where the sugar is cane or beet or some other form of sucrose. Then maybe we'd see if it's the HFCS to blame or just the overall sugar of whatever form.
    3136 days ago
  • no profile photo PACOISAWESOME
    Interesting... I really enjoyed your blog!
    3136 days ago
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