When Sweet Isn’t so Sweet

By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness

March 20, 2013

  • The confusion over sugar and HFCS
  • There’s nothing sweet about these results
  • 15 unexpected foods high in sweeteners

Today I was going over questions from my readers and discovered there is still a lot of confusion over high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and sugar.

On one hand I get a question asking “If HFCS is so bad, should I just stick with sugar?” On the other someone asks “We’ve been using sugar forever; why is it suddenly ‘bad’ for us?”

So let me clear up some confusion…

It’s true that sugar has been around since ancient times. So I can understand why some people are wondering why it’s such a big deal today.

The thing is, until about the 18th century, it wasn’t widely available. Back then it was considered a luxury and few people had access to it. They were lucky just to get a few ounces of it here and there.

Fast forward to today. The average American consumes between 41 and 50 pounds of “added” processed sugar each year. That makes the average consumption between 150 and 175 pounds of sugar per year.

“Added” sugar is the amount above and beyond what you would naturally find in the food supply. And this is a huge leap from the few ounces a year we were consuming in ancient times.

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Here’s another big difference between then and now: The addition of HFCS into our food supply. When you add that to the amount or processed sugar we’re eating, it takes the amount of “added” sugar per year up to between 80 and 96 pounds per person.

HFCS wasn’t widely used until the late 1970’s.

And look what happened next; from 1980 to 1991 obesity rates rose by 52.9 percent in women and 61.5 percent in men. Today, over two-thirds of adults over 20 years of age are considered overweight or obese.

Many people are placing the U.S. obesity epidemic squarely on the shoulders of HFCS.

And while I don’t think HFCS deserves all of the blame, I do believe it’s one of the key players in the epidemic. Let me show you why…

Just a few months ago analysts performed an interesting analysis. They compared the amount of HFCS that was used in 43 countries. Guess what they discovered?

The countries using the most HFCS have a 20% higher rate of diabetes. The analysts came to that number after adjusting for other things, like regular sugar consumption, body weight and overall calorie intake.

The country that consumed the absolute most HFCS was the U.S. The researchers estimated that we eat an average of 55 pounds of HFCS per person each year.

Much of the HFCS in the U.S. is found in soft drinks.

In fact, beverages sweetened with sucrose, HFCS and other sweeteners are now the primary source of added sugars in the U.S. diet.

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There’s been a lot of research done on these sweet, syrupy beverages. In a meta analysis of 11 studies on these beverages, the results were consistent. They increase the risk of diabetes… and in more ways than one.

Not only do these sugary beverages contribute to obesity, they increase your glycemic load. This, in turn leads to insulin resistance, insulin beta cell dysfunction and inflammation.

But that’s just the beginning of the story. There are other health concerns you need to be aware of when it comes to added sugars. They increase your risk of…

  • Heart disease and stroke: People who consume the most added sugars have worse triglyceride and cholesterol profiles. This occurs in both adults and adolescents. In adults who get more the 10% of their daily calories from added sugar, the odds of having low HDL (the good kind) cholesterol was 50% to 300% greater than those who used less than 10%.

When you combine these changes in HDL cholesterol with insulin resistance and inflammation, it increases your risk of arterial plaque and blockages. And increases your risk factors for both heart disease and stroke.

  • Fatty liver: Fructose intake, in particular, is associated with nonalcoholic fatty liver. This is a disease that can lead to inflammation, scarring and even cirrhosis. Researchers now believe this excess consumption of fructose might be a contributing factor. Studies show patients with this disease consume two to three times higher amounts of fructose than those without it.
  • Gout: Men who drink five to six servings of sugar sweetened soft drinks are at greater risk of gout. Their risk is 85% higher than men who only have one or two servings a week. And it’s not only men who are at risk. Women who consume one fructose sweetened soda a day had a 74% higher risk.

Remember, you’re the one in charge. Simply cutting out soft drinks and sugary snacks is something you can control. There are also a few other things you can do…

If you are consume a lot of soda, cookies, pastries, candies and other snacks; or if you’re heavy-handed when it comes to adding table sugar to your tea, coffee and other beverages, you know you’re getting more than your share of the white stuff.

But sugar and HFCS are hiding in many foods where you wouldn’t expect to find them. I touched upon a few hidden sources in my issue, 3 Forbidden Treats with Health Benefits.

Here are 15 more you can add to the list…

  1. Ketchup and barbeque sauce
  2. Canned baked beans
  3. Bottled tea
  4. Yogurt
  5. Jello
  6. Cole slaw
  7. Spaghetti sauce in a jar or can
  8. Instant oatmeal
  9. Frozen waffles
  10. Dried fruit
  11. Sports drinks
  12. Salad dressings
  13. Granola
  14. Frozen dinners
  15. Canned fruits

HFCS in particular is most often found in sodas, fruit drinks, ready-to-eat cereals, breads and baked goods, candies and jellies.

It’s obvious sweeteners are being over used in our food supply. Knowing what to do about it isn’t always clear-cut. The first thing you can do is read labels. I can’t say it often enough.

Check out the sugar content. It’s listed in grams right in the nutrition label. Then read the ingredients to see if the sugars are from sugar, fructose or high fructose corn syrup. You really should stay away from the products containing fructose. But you also want to stick with products that have low sugar content.

The American Heart Association recommends women get a maximum intake of 20 grams of sugar daily. For men it’s 36 grams. That comes out to 16 pounds a year for women and 29 for men. I recommend about half that. But at least it gives you a number to work toward.

And if you tend to sweeten things up at home, I always recommend switching from sugar to stevia.

It’s completely natural and doesn’t have the negative effects on your metabolism the way most sweeteners do. Just remember that it’s much sweeter than sugar, so start off with just a little and add more as needed.

Goran MI, Ulijaszek SJ, Ventura EE. High fructose corn syrup and diabetes prevalence: A global perspective. Glob Public Health. 2012 Nov 27. [Epub ahead of print]

Malik VS, Popkin BM, Bray GA, Després JP, Willett WC, Hu FB. Sugar-sweetened beverages and risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes: a meta-analysis. Diabetes Care. 2010 Nov;33(11):2477-83.

Welsh JA, Sharma A, Abramson JL, Vaccarino V, Gillespie C, Vos MB. Caloric sweetener consumption and dyslipidemia among US adults. JAMA. 2010 Apr 21;303(15):1490-7.

Ouyang X, Cirillo P, Sautin Y, McCall S, et al. Fructose consumption as a risk factor for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. J Hepatol. 2008 Jun;48(6):993-9.

BMJ-British Medical Journal (2008, February 1). Sugary Soft Drinks Linked To Increased Risk Of Gout In Men. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 13, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com¬ /releases/2008/01/080131214539.htm

Choi HK, Willett W, Curhan G. Fructose-rich beverages and risk of gout in women. JAMA. 2010 Nov 24;304(20):2270-8