March 2, 2012

Is Fructose Off the Hook for Overweight and Obesity?

According to the online site WebMD, more controversy is coming. In my reading lately, fructose and gluten-free are the latest to enter the controversy. We have seen sodium and fat at the head of the line, but the latest two entries are interesting. I feel that research agendas are driving all the controversies and not pure scientific research.

As a person with diabetes, high-fructose corn syrup is on the list of “do not eat items.” Therefore, it is with more than a passing interest that I read these articlse. I do have to wonder why there is no listing of the people who are quoted in the WebMD article and who they work for. Yes, in the WebMD article they are all associated with Canadian or US universities, but are they truly independent from the grain industry?

I have in the past, not been too kind to the corn industry and have had several nonproductive conversations with people in the industry. They always spouted the mantra of “sugar is sugar” and quoted industry experts that proclaimed there was no difference. They have well rehearsed answers.  This is most unsatisfying and leaves the discussion without any conclusion.

Most studies are too small and thus not very reliable. Quite possibly, they were done to obtain the results of the agenda of the researchers. This is disturbing at best. Plus, most studies or done using healthy people and not people with diabetes.

By reading a blog by Tom Ross here, and following his link, you may read about a study on fructose reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine (page down to find the abstract). Their review states that most trials had methodological limitations and were of poor quality. They do conclude that fructose does seem to cause weight gain when substituted on the same caloric level as the carbohydrate replaced.

Therefore, with the caloric intake being equal, fructose does not automatically mean weight gain. Now I have to question whether most people can reduce the caloric intake when they are unaware of the number of calories that have been added to their soft drinks and other processed foods. This is where better labeling requirements need to be placed on foods with added fructose, regardless of the type of fructose. The control group did have weight increase when the fructose calories were in addition to the carbohydrate calories already present.

These studies do make some sense of the fructose issue, but there are still many unanswered questions about the effect of fructose on the body, especially the lipid levels produced by fructose.

Now we have another study saying the opposite of these studies. “These studies may provide important insights into the cause of the prediabetic condition known as "metabolic syndrome," which currently affects more than one-quarter of adults in the United States.” Whether this is true, or is just another agenda driven study remains to be seen. Obviously there will be more studies.

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