When sugar tastes bad (2/15/12)
Is All Sugar the Same?
Sugar is just sugar, say the television ads. It doesn’t make any difference if it comes in the form of “natural” high fructose corn syrup or the sugar in a sweet potato or pear. The body treats it the same.
Don’t believe those ads.
Recent studies argue that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is indeed a different animal.
Food is Information
People think pixels on their computer monitor is information. Or the words of the text in this article is information.
So is food.
Food is more complicated than those programmed pixels. Most any food contains hundreds to thousands of different substances – all with different information effects in the body. Your body must ingest them, digest them – and process them all. What do most of them do?
We don’t know.
We don’t know how most foods interact with the 100 trillion bacteria in the gut – or what food does to bacterial populations. We don’t know how those changes affect our immunity or our propensity to cancer – except that they do. We don’t know how food sequence – broccoli before Brussels sprouts, or Brussels sprouts before broccoli – changes our tendency to cancer or drug metabolism – except that it does.
Food is vastly more complicated than its proteins, carbohydrates, fats and calories. Food changes our immunity, our arteries, our brains, our muscles, and our body clocks – among much else. The body processes food information – and creates a somewhat differently built body each time.
And we now know that fructose and glucose our very different information molecules, with very different effects.
A new study in the Journal of Nutrition looked at 14-18 year olds in real time – what they ate and what they did. Those who took in more fructose as opposed to glucose – often through soft drinks – showed:
Higher blood pressure
More visceral fat – fat around their abdominal organs
More C reactive protein – a crude but useful measure of overall inflammation and
Lower HDL cholesterol.
The big factor that seemed to affect all the others – the increase in visceral fat. Visceral fat is an endocrine gland. It spews out many hormones like adiponectin and resistin as well as inflammatory substances like tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF@).
Are these widespread results of fructose ingestion surprising?
Not at all.
A large study done two years in the Journal of Clinical Investigation looked at obese and overweight people. They were monitored for 10 weeks and given different diets – one with lots of fructose, one with much glucose.
The results were not the same.
Previous animal studies demonstrated that dietary fructose produced greater insulin resistance and abnormal lipid levels.
Giving 25% of energy requirements in the form of sugar had multiple effects. Triglyceride levels went up with glucose based diets – not with fructose.
But those who ate the fructose had:
Higher fasting glucose levels (what you measure to diagnose diabetes)
Several higher levels of other lipids – like LDL
The study’s main conclusion – eating fructose led to higher levels of visceral fat.
Recently researchers at UCSF, led by Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist, wrote an editorial in the scientific journal Nature. Their goal – tax sugar. They argued that sugar, like alcohol, has multiple toxic effects. Just as national and international programs to decrease tobacco and alcohol use had succeeded, public tax measures to decrease sugar consumption could markedly improve public health.
Don’t expect to see those taxes appearing any time soon.
There will certainly arguments as to whether you should tax sugar – particularly if you then don’t subsidize or encourage greater use of fruits and vegetables. Many will argue against taxing “one” part of diet.
But Americans add perhaps 145 pounds of sugar each year to their diets – beyond the sugar already present naturally in foods. Diabetes is an increasing scourge that threatens to bankrupt our teetering medical care system. And the information HFCS gives to the body is clearly not healthy – even if it is one of the cheapest forms of calories available.
The real issue is how to regenerate your body – the way you want. Give your body food that provokes visceral fat, heart disease, stroke, and inflammation appears foolhardy – as is providing billions in agricultural subsidies to create cheap HFCS.
Food is information. The right information can help remake you – and prevent disease. Think what you’re ingesting – well before you eat – and your body will come to thank you.
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