I recently mentioned in a blog that I’d tidied up my diet a bit (in conjunction with some mindful eating). Part of the ‘tidying up a bit’ meant taking out ALL foods with added sugar from my diet. I don’t consume much added sugar habitually, but I am generally no angel either. So, I won’t forego dessert in a restaurant or at a dinner party if I fancy it, and some chocolate or cake is known to pass my lips on occasion too. Anyway, for the last two months, all of extraneous sugar consumption has gone.
If a recent paper published in the journal Circulation is to be believed, my cutting out of added sugar from my diet may be positively contributing to my cardiovascular health . You can access a pdf of the article here.
In this statement, representatives of the American Heart Association detail the evidence linking consumption of added sugar, say from sugar-sweetened beverages, and effects on health that are likely to increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease and stroke. For example, the quote a review of 88 studies which found that higher intakes of soft drinks was associated with greater caloric consumption, higher body weight, lower intake of other nutrients and worse indicators of health .
The review also highlights evidence which links sugar consumption to certain risk factors of cardiovascular disease such as raised levels of blood fats known as triglycerides and heightened levels of inflammation and ‘oxidative stress’ (free radical damage).
I was particularly interested in this paper because it highlighted the potential problems associated with consuming fructose. As the authors point out, fructose was Originally proposed as the ideal sweetener for people with diabetes mellitus because of its inability to stimulate insulin secretion. However, they go on to point out that epidemiological studies link its consumption to various ills including insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure. The authors also cite a study in which feeding individuals fructose-rich drinks was found to bring about detrimental effects in terms of insulin sensitivity, blood fat levels, fasting sugar levels and fatty accumulation. These changes were not, however, seen in individuals fed glucose-rich drinks.
Some of you may know that ‘high fructose corn syrup’ (HFCS) is commonly used as a sweetening agent in our food supply, including soft drinks. The authors of this paper point out that many people mistakenly believe that HFCS is pure fructose. In fact, it is made up of about half fructose and about half glucose ” just like sucrose (table sugar).
It seems the food industry has done it’s best to brand HFCS as a healthier alternative to sugar by highlighting its fructose content. Remember, fructose has been traditionally believed to be a healthier because of it does not raise blood sugar levels acutely. However, a more evidence comes in the fructose is a major villain of the peace, it seems like the food industry’s apparent attempt to brand HFCS as something desirable is backfiring spectacularly.
The industry’s first position will be, of course, to deny that fructose is a problem. Last year I was lecturing to a group of dieticians in South Africa and was warning of the hazards of consuming fructose and HFCS. A dietician in the audience took exception to this. She did confess, though, to being ‘a representative of the sugar industry’.
But my sense is this is a battle the industry will not be able to win. Before long, I hope it’s going to be pretty common knowledge that fructose is a nutritional disaster area. And then I suspect what will happen is that the sugar industry will set about rebranding high fructose corn syrup in a way that is less vocal about the fact that this sweetening agent is high in fructose.
1. Johnson RK, et all. Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health. A scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation 24th August 2009 [on-line publication]
2. Vartanian LR, et al. Effects of soft drink consumption on nutrition and health: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Public Health 2007;97:667-675