This article, in the New York Times Magazine, started off with a red flag for me:
And by “sugar,” Lustig means not only the white granulated stuff that we put in coffee and sprinkle on cereal — technically known as sucrose — but also high-fructose corn syrup…
Oh dear, I thought, by lumping these two together he’s making a real mess of things. But the article clarifies quite thoroughly. The two sweeteners are more similar than we thought, and that fact condemns rather than vindicates both.
Both have a nearly identical ratio of glucose and fructose. Sucrose has the two molecules bonded together. In HFCS, they remain separate. They’re separate in honey, too. In maple syrup, they’re bonded together.
The article says that the end physiological results are the same for sugar and HFCS, because both end up as glucose and fructose in the body; a little googling as well as what comes next in the article makes me think there is a difference — that it might matter that the free (unbonded) fructose and glucose are absorbed more quickly.
All cells metabolize glucose. The liver metabolizes most of the fructose — so more fructose means more work for the liver. The faster the fructose gets there — in a liquid, for example — the more work for the liver, too.
When the liver gets enough fructose fast enough, it converts to fat, which leads to insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, which seem to underlie many problems such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and even some cancers — diseases that seem mostly limited to the Western lifestyle and food culture.
How much, and how fast, is too much and too fast? More research is needed, particularly seriously long-term studies.
Also interesting is how far back the roots of this and other aspects of the alternative hypothesis go — at least to the 20s. And how many of the relevant studies laid the blame on fat when the evidence could equally convict sugar.
How beautifully ironic that the Google Ad on the page was for “SweetSurprise.com,” an effort by the corn refiners to make HFCS look innocent.
I’m curious about how maple syrup and honey would fare in these studies. While looking around a little (here, for example), I learned that maple syrup has some fat and is mainly sucrose. Honey has some fiber and protein, and is mainly free fructose and glucose. Both have some vitamins and minerals and antioxidants. Honey, when raw, also has some enzymes.
I’d like to know how to read a maple syrup label to know whether it was produced healthily; apparently some producers (most?) use lead-soldered buckets and / or formaldehyde plugs in the trees. I also need to ask again about the production of the honey I’ve been buying at the farmers market.
Remember when I wrote about sugar=poison before?