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Why Corn is Making You Fat

My favorite clinical journal is the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Next month's issue has a great lead article on the contribution that high fructose corn syrup has made to the obesity epidemic in the United States. This is not a new issue as I have previously warned about the dangers of fructose. Sweet corn-based syrups were developed during the past three decades and now represent close to one-half of the caloric sweeteners consumed by Americans. The researchers conservatively estimate the consumption of fructose to be over 125 cal daily for all Americans older than 2 years. Consumption of high-fructose corn sweeteners increased more than 1,000 percent between 1970 and 1990, far exceeding changes in intake of any other food or food group.

Table sugar (sucrose) is a combination of fructose and glucose. Fructose is nearly twice as sweet as simple table sugar. High-fructose corn syrup, made by an enzymatic isomerization of glucose to fructose, was introduced in 1967. The development of these inexpensive, sweet corn-based syrups made it profitable to replace natural sugar (sucrose) with fructose in our diet.

Fructose has become a favorite substitute for sucrose in sodas, baked goods, canned fruits, jams and jellies, and dairy products and now it is the only caloric sweetener in soft drinks in the United States. Over 60 percent of the calories in apple juice, which is used as the base for many of the fruit drinks, come from fructose, and thus apple juice is another source of fructose in the diet. About two-thirds of all fructose consumed in the United States is in beverages. The major user of fructose in the world is the United States; however, it is now manufactured and used in many countries throughout the world.

The digestive and absorptive processes for glucose and fructose are different. Unlike simple sugar, when one consumes large amounts of fructose it is a relatively unregulated source of fuel for the liver to convert to fat and cholesterol. The fact that most fructose is consumed in a liquid form significanlty magnifies its negative metabolic effects. The devastation it has on our biology would be significantly lessened if it were consumed in solid food. In addition, unlike glucose, fructose does not stimulate insulin secretion or enhance leptin production. Because insulin and leptin act as key afferent signals in the regulation of food intake and body weight, this suggests that dietary fructose may contribute to increased energy intake and weight gain.

Genetic factors clearly play an important role in the development of obesity. However, the rapidity with which the current epidemic of obesity has hit the United States and the rest of the world makes diet and lifestyle a more likely explanation.

So the answer is plain clear and simple. If you want to lose weight stop drinking soda and processed fruit juices that are sweetened with fructose. I have made many difficult recommendations to patients in their quest to achieve health, but one of the drop-dead easy no-brainers for me is to stop drinking soda. There is just simply never any reason to drink it and it is one of the easiest foods to give up. Switch to pure water as your beverage of choice.

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, April 2004;79(4) 537-543

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