For years, we’ve been told that the secret to weight management (and, therefore, prevention of chronic degenerative diseases) is simply to eat less and exercise more. In fact, that may be the extent of your medical doctor’s knowledge about nutrition and lifestyle. More and more evidence has been accumulating that shows that we are not just machines with a “calories in – calories out” energy logic; there is a qualitative difference in the foods that we eat, even if the number of calories is the same. One of the main culprits that nutrition experts point the finger at is fructose, and in partcular, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a sugar which is added to many processed foods. But is that true?
Enter the latest research from our own back yard – the University of Illinois. Investigators divided mice into two groups, one of which got extra fructose added to their diet, and the other got extra glucose (a simple sugar found in many foods). The mice were not overfed, and the number of calories they consumed was about the same. Therefore, their body weight and fat should have been about the same. Lo and behold, however: The fructose group gained more body weight, more fat tissue, and even had liver enlargement (a sign of significant metabolic dysfunction) compared to the glucose group.
This is yet another indicator that the explosion in HFCS in our modern American diet is a driving force behind the epidemic of obesity and diabetes. The soda pop industry of course denies it, but what do you expect, when billions of dollars are at stake? It took tobacco companies decades to admit any connection between their product and cancer or heart disease.
All calories are not created equal. Concentrated fructose added to processed foods is like putting diesel in a Prius — the type of fuel we use makes a difference to our internal metabolic “machinery.” Keep in mind, though, that this effect does not occur with naturally-occurring fructose in fruit — enjoy your berries! So should you be frightened of fructose? I would say, just be wary — and avoid HFCS wherever it lurks.
Ref: Fructose decreases physical activity and increases body fat without affecting hippocampal neurogenesis and learning relative to an isocaloric glucose diet. Scientific Reports 5, Article number: 9589 (2015). doi:10.1038/srep09589