More Reasons to Avoid Fructose?

August 17, 2010

Two studies recently published uncovered a link between fructose and the accelerated maturation of adipose tissue (fat cells) and the proliferation of cancer cells.

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), the ubiquitous sweetener in processed foods and beverages, including candy, crackers, salad dressing, soft drinks, juices, barbeque sauces, yogurt, bread, cookies, frozen entrees, canned soup etc. is once again under fire. Two studies recently published uncovered a link between fructose and the accelerated maturation of adipose tissue (fat cells) and the proliferation of cancer cells. 

What is HFCS again? HFCS is made up of corn syrup that has undergone processing to change the glucose molecules into fructose- both of which are simple sugars; fructose is more than twice as sweet as glucose- and is then mixed with pure corn syrup (100 percent glucose), to produce the desired sweetness. HFCS increases shelf life of processed foods, is cheap- about half the price of cane sugar, and is easy to incorporate in food manufacturing. Sounds like a perfect ingredient, but HFCS has its critics and its supporters. Some critics say it is a toxic chemical but its supporter’s dispute claims saying HFCS is comparable to table sugar.

Isn’t fructose also found in fruit? Yes fructose is in fact a naturally occurring sugar in fruit. Health professionals believe, due to the ubiquity of HFCS in processed foods, that the majority of American’s fructose intake is not from fruit. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that less than one quarter of Americans are getting the recommended five or more servings of fruit and vegetables per day. According to previous research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, US consumption of HFCS increased 1,000 percent between 1970 and 1990- we’re clearly passing on fruits and veggies for processed foods.

So why might fructose specifically, be contributing to America’s increasing waistline? Research conducted at the University of Bristol in the UK studied biopsy specimens of both subcutaneous and visceral fat (belly fat) from 32 healthy-weight children. They studied preadipocytes (precursors to fat cells that can multiply or mature) in particular and allowed the cells to mature for two weeks in a culture containing glucose (the main sugar in the bloodstream), high glucose or high fructose.

They then measured enzymatic activity and the amount of a specific protein only found in mature fat cells. Results revealed that the cells in the fructose culture matured into visceral fat cells as well as demonstrated a decrease in insulin sensitivity- a characteristic of type 2 diabetes. Researchers concluded that, “fructose alters the behavior of human fat cells if it is present as the fat cells mature.”

To add injury to insult, a recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine reminds us of the fact that having a large waist circumference is associated with inflammation, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, abnormal cholesterol levels and heart disease. The study specifically found that larger waist (visceral, belly fat) was associated with higher risk of death across all categories of BMI, including normal weight, overweight and obese; however, among women, the association was strongest for those at a normal weight.

Another study conducted by a team at the University of California Los Angeles found that cancer cells readily metabolize fructose for proliferation. Researchers found that tumor cells thrive on sugar, both fructose and glucose, but specifically used fructose to multiply.

Supermarket Guru suggests you continue to diligently read labels, and decrease your overall sugar consumption. According the American Heart Association, too much sugar of any kind not only adds pounds, but is also a key culprit in diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Experiment with more fresh produce, or head over to the freezer section for frozen fruits and veggies, or center aisles with canned veggies- do remember to look out for unnecessary added ingredients, including syrups and sodium.