Fructose and obesity

Another paper has been published showing that fructose (a sugar that naturally occurs in fruit), when used as an artificial sweetener, may be even worse than other sweeteners in inducing a hormal response that encourages obesity.

As I explained in this paper, fructose gets a better press than it deserves, because it has a low glycemic index (GI).  The reason is not that fructose is a complex carbohydrate which is metabolized slowly, but because the glycemic index measures the impact of food on glucose levels in the blood, and it happens that the human body does not break down fructose into glucose, so fructose sneaks under the radar. 

As a result of having a low GI, fructose is sometimes treated as if it is a healthier sweetener than sucrose or other processed sugars, when in fact the evidence suggests the exact opposite. (Many current diet fads, such as the South Beach diet, involve eating foods with a low GI).

Consumption of fructose has increased by 20-30% over the past thirty years, a rate of increase similar to that of obesity.  A sweetener called high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is used extensively as an additive by the food industry, for example in soft drinks, baked goods such as cakes and muffins, sauces, prepared desserts, and other processed foods such as syrups added to coffees. While the average consumption per person of refined cane and beet sugars has decreased by 35% over the thirty years to 2000, the consumption of corn sweeteners has increased by 277%. High-fructose corn syrup consumption has increased 40-fold from less than 0.5 grams daily per person in 1970 to 53.9 grams daily per person in 2003.

I am increasingly confident that processing of foods, especially the addition of sweeteners such as HFCS, will be "the new tobacco" in years to come, as we come to realise that we have been deliberately and cynically poisoned by the processed food industry.

2 thoughts on “Fructose and obesity”

  1. we have been deliberately and cynically poisoned by the processed food industry.

    another general observation! this kind of phrase always intrigues me. I got in to an argument on some other blog where the writer was suggesting that the World Bank was effectively an agent for enforcing the corporate interests at the expense of the poor. I suggested that might come as news to the World Bank staff under the impression they’re trying to fund development. The response – eventually – was the that staff may have fallen for an ideology that made them think they were helping, whereas in fact they’d been duped into … etc/

    I take it that in this case you do not mean that managers at food processors are consciously adding fructose, thinking of it as adding a poison to our food. Perhaps you do. I assume you just mean that we are in effect being poisoned, but the companies are putting it there, but might believe it is safe, or perhaps those with doubts supress them.

    But it makes me think, what do these kinds of sentence mean? I presume you didn’t mean to say that food processors are unwittingly poisoning us, otherwise you wouldn’t have used the word deliberately, but to what extent to you mean that food processors see what they are doing in the same light as you (as if a whistle blower might admit “yes, we knew we were poisioning people to boost our sales / profits). If you are asserting food processor are aware of what they are doing, then you are on much shakier ground and if you interviewed a bunch of food processors and they all said, no, we think fructose is OK, you’re assertion would be incorrect.

    In the case of the World Bank accuser, I think it shows he was living in a fantasy world. Sure, you might think the World Bank has made lots of mistakes or is under pressure from various lobbies, but I think the psychological implausibility that these smart guys are just corporate dupes makes a nonsense of the accusation.

    incidently Owen, on my screen at least, the right extremity of the comments field is obscured by the right hand column (catagories etc.) so you can’t see what you’re typing. Can you add a preview?

  2. Paddy

    I mean that the food processing companies know that sugars are addictive and increase the sales of their products and that they either know or should know that it is very likely added sugars leads to an array of health problems. But while it is legal to add sugars to food, their commercial interests are in doing so.

    In general, I worry that society has constructed corporations in way that encourages the people who work for them to make choices that they would never make as individuals (in essence, we have constructed companies to be amoral; and so give people space to make choices that they would not be happy to make in their private lives).

    You are right about the comments box: I need to fix that. Sorry. [Update: now fixed, I hope.]


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