No surprise: High fructose corn syrup is making us sick and fat

UPDATE after the jump. A new study by the University of California indicates that high fructose corn syrup could be just as unhealthy as some nutrition experts have thought.

In short, the first tests conducted on humans showed that subjects who were fed a diet high in fructose accumulated fat cells around their vital organs -- and they showed early signs of diseases like diabetes. A separate group ate a diet sweetened with sugar and showed no such signs.

The study also showed that fructose jumps directly to the liver without being digested like a normal sugar. Of course this leads to all kinds of metabolic problems, the most obvious being obesity.

It's difficult to imagine serious healthcare reform without reforming food. Food lobbyists have considerable power over Congress (and the Iowa Caucus has a lot to do with it) which, in turn, appropriates tens of billions of dollars on subsidizing corn. And firms like the ones run by Rick Berman's Center for Consumer Freedom are paid a lot of money to tell us that HFCS is harmless.

In fact, you've probably seen the pro-HFCS commercials from the lobbyist group called The Center for Consumer Freedom. It's one of many front groups formed by Rick Berman, who has also formed other PR fronts for promoting everything from smoking to -- this is true -- payday loans.

But next time you're at the grocery store, go to the bread aisle and take a look at the refrigerated baked goods like the crescent rolls, cinnamon rolls and the cookie dough. Loaded with high fructose corn syrup, right?

Now check out the actual loaves of bread. I was at the store the other day, and almost every brand of bread contained HFCS. In the bread. So, as if the carbs and wheat gluten in the bread weren't bad enough, it's also loaded with this other crap.

Like the military-industrial complex, the prevalence of corn in our food supply is so wired into the system that it would be next to impossible for a politician to successful beat it back, which is partly why I'm not holding my breath for a solution from Congress. However, there is good news from the private sector as more companies reevaluate its use of the sweetener.

PepsiCo, for example, is switching back to sugar for use in Gatorade as part of a $30 million revamping of the drink. Yes, the sports and fitness drink was heretofore loaded with HFCS -- a testament to its ubiquity.

UPDATE: One of the UC Davis scientists, Dr. Kimber Stanhope, who worked on this study disputes the misleading interpretation by the Times Online piece that I reference here, writing that the Times article contains inaccurate interpretations of the study. For instance, the Times Online article says that fructose arrives in the liver intact. Glucose does as well, Dr. Stanhope says. However, Dr. Stanhope noted too that there is, in fact, a difference in how fructose is processed by the liver. Dr. Stanhope also clarifies that HFCS contains both glucose and fructose. Though HFCS contains 5% more fructose than sugar.

Stanhope writes, "When a person consumes a large amount of glucose, the liver doesn't take up all of the glucose, if the person is well fed. In contrast, nearly all the fructose consumed ends up in the liver whether the liver needs to store those calories or not."

So HFCS contains more fructose than glucose and all of it is processed by the liver, as opposed to sugar which contains equal parts glucose and fructose. While the Times Online article was inaccurate in its wording, there still appears to be validity in the idea that fructose is processed differently by the liver.

Dr. Stanhope, in another comment on Grist, writes that the UC Davis team are still investigating the potentially harmful effects of diets high in fructose, including HFCS consumption.

I apologize for any confusion here. But I'd like to underscore that Dr. Stanhope and and the UC Davis study don't give HFCS a pass. Dr. Stanhope is merely disputing the Times Online article, and not claiming that fructose or HFCS is safe.

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