Fructose, particularly in the form of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), has been labelled the devil of all food creations. A video surfaced on youtube this past year by a well-spoken and clearly educated doctor by the name of Robert Lustig.
The video’s length would make James Cameron cringe, but it is a very detailed look into the science, politics and health effects of fructose. The video received some very positive accolades in the on-line and print community, with both lay people and industry professionals lauding Dr. Lustig, and his clear message: Fructose is Toxic.
A recent rebuttal to this video on a straight-shooting fitness and nutrition blog, has caused quite a heated discussion.
Let’s review the video and the rebuttal, and try and make some sense out of it all.
The Real Truth About High Fructose Corn Syrup
- The amount of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has gone up 1000+% from 1970 to present day.
- Too much fructose in the form of HFCS can in fact have some negative impacts on health.
- Americans consume over 60lbs of HFCS annually, accounting for over 400 calories per day.
- Fructose bi-passes the breakdown process that glucose undergoes and heads straight for the liver – theoretically making the liver work overtime to process it.
- Dr. Lustig does a very good job of breaking down the politics on how we came to be eating so much HFCS (in short, it’s cheap).
- He gives what looks to be a sound biochemical breakdown of how fructose acts on the liver, and the potential consequences of the body.
- Lustig also acknowledges correctly that fructose is not an “acute toxin”, implying that there is a dose-response to fructose’s dangers.
Fructose: The Bitter (stretching of the) Truth
- The alleged toxicity of fructose is context-dependant. Lustig does not mention any dose ranges, and claims that fructose is fattening irrespective of caloric intake.
- Human studies to date have not found higher fructose intakes to be any more fattening than other sugars when calories are controlled.
- The studies which do demonstrate adverse effects of fructose consumption are in unreasonably high doses.
- Dr. Lustig points to fructose’s negative effects on hormones, particularly leptin. However, leptin impairment was found in rats consuming a diet of 60% fructose.
- While it is convenient to point the finger at HFCS for the obesity epidemic, total calories went up markedly in that same time period.
- In addition to fear-mongering, Dr. Lustig makes some statements in his video that range from curious to outrageous. For example, in his opening monologue, he states that “Japanese populations don’t eat fructose“. This is flat-out wrong, as it is estimated that the Japanese’s sugar consumption is about ¼ HFCS.
- Another flaw in the HFCS-is-causing-obesity argument is that countries in Europe, Australia and Mexico have raising obesity rates, but do not have correspondingly high HFCS intake.
What To Do?
- Referring to anything as a “toxin” warrants contextualization. Consuming HFCS in smaller amounts, within a calorically-reasonable diet, won’t do anything bad to you.
- Eating a lot of something that has empty calories will pack on the pounds, and have health consequences. HFCS is no exception, but it certainly isn’t special.
- There is no argument that too much of our food consumption is in the form of sugared foods and drinks. Cutting back on these will help reduce your waistline, and promote better health.
- I can’t think of a single good reason to cut fruit out of your diet.
- Rodin J, Reed D, Jamner L. Metabolic effects of fructose and glucose: implications for food intake. Am J Clin Nutr. 1988 Apr;47(4):683-9.
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- Teff KL, et al. Dietary fructose reduces circulating insulin and leptin, attenuates postprandial suppression of ghrelin, and increases triglycerides in women. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2004 Jun;89(6):2963-72.
- Livesy G. Fructose ingestion: dose-dependent responses in health research. J Nutr. 2009 Jun;139(6):1246S-1252S. Epub 2009 Apr 22.
- WHO Oral Health Country/Area Profile Programme