August 16

Why is high-fructose corn syrup so fattening?

Different Types of Sugar

Sucrose, or table sugar, comes from sugar cane or sugar beets and is made up of glucose molecules. Fruit, on the other hand, contains the sugar fructose, which has a slightly different chemical structure than glucose.

The main source of sugar used in processed foods today is high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is derived from corn. HFSC consists of 45 percent glucose and 55 percent fructose.

How the Body Metabolizes Fructose

The human body metabolizes fructose differently than glucose. Glucose is used directly by the body’s cells. Fructose, on the other hand, can’t be used directly. First it needs to be processed by the liver. The liver converts fructose to triglycerides, a type of fat. Triglycerides are stored in the liver. Excess triglycerides can cause a condition called fatty liver. When the liver can no longer store the excess triglycerides, they enter the bloodstream, where they can cause high blood pressure and insulin resistance. These conditions lead to metabolic syndrome (obesity around the waist and high blood pressure) and eventually, type 2 diabetes.

One theory why fructose is metabolized differently than glucose in the body is that it’s a survival mechanism that has helped primates and human beings survive periods of famine. Even a small amount of fructose is stored as fat, which allows us to survive when very little fructose, the main type of sugar found in fruit, is available. Fat is the most efficient means of storing energy in the body.

The problem today is that fructose, in the form of HFCS, is widely available, but our bodies have evolved in such a way that we’re able to survive on very little of it.

Why do we crave sugar?

Our brains respond to sugar in the same way that they do to the drugs heroin and cocaine. Sugar stimulates the pleasure centres of the brain, so it can be considered an addictive substance.  Some scientists even go so far as to call excess sugar a toxin because it saps our energy.

Given that our bodies need very little fructose and we’re surrounded by excess amounts, you can see why this has become a serious problem!

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