You’ll seldom find yourself arguing with most conscientious consumers when presented with the fact that high fructose corn syrup is a health-destroyer and should be avoided. But, what about other sugars? Some experts say that table sugar (both brown and white, from cane or beet) is similarly bad for you, as is the fructose found naturally in fruit. But, have we taken the sugar-scare too far?
A few years ago, Gary Taubes wrote a piece for New York Magazine interviewing Robert Lustig, one of the premier anti-sugar experts. Taubes admits he agrees with Lustig when Lustig argues that all sugar is toxic and can be blamed not only for diseases like Type 2 diabetes, but also heart disease, hypertension, and some forms of cancer. He says the toxicity has nothing to do with calories and everything to do with the substance being a poison.
In the early 1980s, processed food makers began sweetening their foods with high fructose corn syrup after sugar began gaining a bad reputation. Now, the pendulum is swinging the other way and we see food with big labels advertising their lack of HFCS and their inclusion of “real” sugar. But, how much better is real sugar when it’s still highly over-consumed?
Dr Mercola has this to say:
Glucose is the form of energy you were designed to run on. Every cell in your body, every bacterium—and in fact, every living thing on the Earth—uses glucose for energy. But as a country, sucrose is no longer the sugar of choice. It’s now fructose….It isn’t that fructose itself is bad—it is the MASSIVE DOSES you’re exposed to that make it dangerous.
Indeed sugar is being consumed in massive doses. According to Dr. Mercola:
- The average person consumed approximately 4.9 grams each day (4 pounds of sugar each year) around 1700.
- The average person consumed approximately 22.4 grams each day (18 pounds of sugar each year) around 1800.
- The average person consumed approximately 112 grams each day, (90 pounds of sugar each year) around 1900.
- 50 percent of Americans consumed approximately 227 grams (1/2 pound) of sugar each day around 2009—equating to a 180 pounds each year.
- The average person consumes 70 grams of fructose each day – 300 percent above the recommended amount.
HFCS and Real Sugar
Marketing aside, the HFCS and real sugar are similar in sparking negative biological effects. “High-fructose corn syrup, sugar — no difference,” is how Lustig put it in a lecture that I attended in San Francisco last December. “The point is they’re each bad.” Whether it’s true or not that HFCS is equally harmful as sugar, the final takeaway is that sugar as a whole is causing countless problems. It’s important to note, though, that while both sweeteners are tied to negative health effects, high fructose corn syrup has also been shown to contain mercury while damaging learning abilities. In the end, the advice is to lessen sugar consumption as a whole.
Related Read: Foods with High Fructose Corn Syrup
But what about fruit? Before we villianize fructose, the sugar in fruit, let’s talk about how it works within the body. According to Dr. Gerard Mullin, with Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, MD., the fiber in fruit actually slows the absorption of the fructose, allowing the body to handle it at a more reasonable and natural rate. What’s more, fructose in fruit is mixed in with vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and beneficial phytonutrients, all which moderate the negative metabolic effects. This isn’t to say, however, that you can consume as much as you want.
He puts it this way:
Fruits have fructose, but the fiber in the fruit lessens its release into the circulation through the gut. All processed sugars can he harmful in excess quantities. In the liquid form, they can raise insulin levels and fat accumulation. So in part, Taubes is correct—all processed sugars have the potential to be harmful.
So, what’s a person to do? How do we make sense of the sugar-woes?
Over-consumption of sugar outside of its natural habitat (in fruit and paired with beneficial fiber) can be harmful to your health. Limit or eliminate the use of table sugar and high fructose corn syrup. More than likely, if all of us were only getting natural sugars, in their natural states (i.e. in fruits and vegetables), the rates of many modern lifestyle diseases would plummet.