Poisoned by fructose


I just finished watching The Bitter Truth (video), and it really is as compelling, and frightening, as everyone says. In this lecture, Dr. Robert Lustig (Professor of Pediatrics at UCSF) gives us a pile of studies and a biochemistry analysis that point to this conclusion:

Fructose is a toxin.

I think we’ve all heard rumblings about how high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) might be bad for you, but Dr. Lustig lays it out in crisp detail. The video is long (1.5 hours) — it took me three sessions to finish — but it’s definitely worth watching. He explains how fructose (which sounds innocuous; after all, it comes from fruit!) is metabolized quite differently than glucose (our native sugar) is. In fact, fructose behaves more like a fat, which is why an ostensibly “low-fat” product, which has been pumped up with high-fructose corn syrup to make it palatable, often causes body fat to increase.

He also draws an interesting parallel between fructose and ethanol (another carbohydrate), which is metabolized like fructose in the liver (leading to fat deposition), with additional brain side effects (a buzz) lacking in fructose.

If you aren’t creeped out by his discussion of our country having obese *six-month-olds*, then you have a stronger constitution than I do.

He does offer a “lifestyle intervention” plan, which he uses to help obese kids:

1. Get rid of all sugared liquids — only water and milk
2. Eat your carbohydrate with fiber (fructose + fiber, which is how it manifests in actual fruit, is okay)
3. Wait 20 minutes for second portions
4. Trade screen time minute-for-minute with physical activity

He comments that #4 is the hardest one to achieve, which I can readily imagine! I don’t think I could do it myself, much as I might want to.

Now I’m compulsively checking labels on various foods and realizing a new limitation therein. While fats are now broken down into saturated and unsaturated fats, sugars are all lumped together (instead of breaking them down into glucose, fructose, lactose, maltose, etc.). Dr. Lustig’s point is that different sugars affect the body differently. If the ingredients include HFCS, you know it contains fructose. Plain sugar is sucrose, which is fructose + glucose, so you’re getting some of each. But what if it contains “corn syrup”? How about “evaporated cane juice syrup”? Or my beloved Raisin Bran Crunch, which has sugar, brown sugar syrup, corn syrup, and honey? It doesn’t look good.

Awareness is the first step. With informative sources like Dr. Lustig’s talk, we can look at our options in a new light and consider whether changes are worth making in our individual lives. Take a look at his talk. I found it very compelling.

1 of 3 people learned something from this entry.

  1. jim said,

    April 22, 2013 at 8:47 am

    (Knew it already.)

    Pretty sobering stuff, isn’t it?

    I’ve become even more obsessive about checking labels since I’ve been using the daily diet diary that I mentioned earlier. What’s startling is seeing how much sugar-based carbohydrates I consume per day, most embedded as part of other ingredients. What I don’t have a sense for is how much are “okay” by virtue of being in foods with a large fiber content. I’m also sort of wondering about the long-term effects of fatty liver.

  2. Susan said,

    April 22, 2013 at 9:20 am

    (Knew it already.)

    So, you’re a great scientist who is more obsessive than I am — I have heard that there are some pretty compelling rebuttal’s of Lustig’s position, and since this stuff does not seem to be accepted by mainstream medicine as of yet, I’d like to better understand it before taking it as truth.

    Have you looked for any of these rebuttals? Do they exist? It’s on my list of stuff to check out, but my list is so long :-p.

    Autumn does drink fruit juice, and my obsession has just been to make sure that it’s not artificially sweetened. It creeps me out to no end that the vast majority of fruit juice available for purchase in this country has sugar added(usually HFCS, but sometimes just corn syrup or even sucrose). But I also observed while in the UK, which has laws against this, that you can sweeten store bought fruit juice just by adding concentrated apple juice and shorting the water. So it’s hard to win.

  3. Scott Van Essen said,

    April 22, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    (Learned something new!)

    Scary!!! I’ve heard lots of bad things about HFCS, this is just icing on the cake.

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