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High Fructose Corn Syrup

A group of sugar farmers and refiners are suing corn processors and a lobbying group for advertising that High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is as healthful as sugar (Associated Press, September 13, 2011). The granulated table sugar that you buy in the store comes from sugar cane or sugar beets. HFCS is processed from corn and is found in almost all sugared soft drinks.

As of today, nobody has shown that HFCS is any more damaging to your health than granulated table sugar. Almost all studies show that large amounts of granulated table sugar or HFCS equally increase risk for diabetes, heart attacks, obesity and premature death.

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HFCS AND TABLE SUGAR: Table sugar is primarily sucrose, a double sugar with almost equal parts of two single sugars called glucose and fructose. HFCS is also glucose and fructose, but they are single sugars that are not bound together.

DOES SEPARATE GLUCOSE AND FRUCTOSE CAUSE MORE DISEASE? It may, but nobody has shown that it does. All sugars can increase risk for obesity, diabetes, heart attacks and premature death.

RATIOS OF GLUCOSE TO FRUCTOSE ARE NEARLY IDENTICAL: Table sugar has about a 50/50 ratio of glucose to fructose. HFCS has approximately a 45/55 ratio. Nobody has shown that this difference in ratio increases risk for disease or premature death.

THE FRUCTOSE IN HFCS AND TABLE SUGAR ARE THE SAME. Of the two sugars, glucose is allowed to circulate freely in your bloodstream and can enter all your cells. However, fructose is immediately trapped by your liver. It is first sent into liver cells as a stored sugar called glycogen. When glycogen stores are full, fructose is converted to a fat called triglycerides. Triglycerides are the building blocks used to make the bad LDL cholesterol that causes plaques to form in arteries. High triglycerides cause high LDL cholesterol.

HOW COULD HFCS BE MORE HARMFUL THAT TABLE SUGAR? When your blood sugar rises too high, sugar sticks to the outer surface of cell membranes. Once there, sugar can never get off. It is converted by a series of chemical reactions first from glucose to fructose and eventually to sorbitol, a sugar alcohol that destroys the cell to cause all the side effects of diabetes: nerve damage such as blindness, deafness, and loss of feeling, impotency, heart attacks, strokes, dementia, kidney damage, and so forth.

Theoretically, HFCS could cause a higher rise in blood sugar, but this has not been proven. HFCS contains single sugars (glucose and fructose), while table sugar has the two sugars bound together in a single molecule (sucrose). It takes an extra chemical reaction to convert sucrose to the single sugars that are already individual in HFCS. So theoretically, HFCS could cause a higher rise in blood sugar than table sugar, but, as of today, we do not have this proof.

WHY CAN ALL SUGARED DRINKS HARM YOU? Sugared drinks cause much higher rises in blood sugar than sugared foods. The higher the rise in blood sugar, the greater the cell damage. When food enters your stomach, the pyloric sphincter at the end of your stomach closes and no solid food can pass into your intestines. Only a liquid soup is squeezed into your intestines. Sugared drinks enter your intestines to be absorbed immediately. When you eat whole fruit, it can stay in your stomach for up to five hours before it is squirted into your intestines.

MY RECOMMENDATIONS: When you are not exercising, avoid any form of added sugars in foods and drinks. Whole fruit is fine, but avoid fruit juices. When you are exercising, you can take sugared drinks and foods. Contracting muscles can draw sugar into their cells without needing insulin. On the other hand, resting muscles are passive and require insulin to draw sugar from your bloodstream. Taking sugar when you are not exercising causes much higher rises in blood sugar.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: When should I take sugar to increase endurance and speed during exercise?

Taking sugar DURING exercise prolongs speed and endurance, but do not take sugar until at least 10 minutes AFTER YOU START exercising. Taking sugar BEFORE exercise raises insulin levels that cause lower blood sugar levels over the time of exercise which decreases endurance (International Journal of Sports Medicine, May 2011).

During exercise, muscles draw sugar from the bloodstream into their cells without requiring insulin. This prevents blood sugar levels from rising too high to cause the pancreas to release large amounts of insulin, which lowers blood sugar levels. Since insulin levels can remain high for hours, you should not take foods that cause a high rise in blood sugar for three hours before you compete.

On the other hand, when you exercise, contracting muscles draw sugar so rapidly from the bloodstream that blood sugar levels do not rise high enough to cause a high rise in insulin.

LOW BLOOD SUGAR TIRES YOU: Almost 100 percent of the energy for your brain comes from sugar in your bloodstream. When you take sugared drinks or food and your muscles are not contracting, your blood sugar levels rise high, calling out for your pancreas to release insulin to lower your blood sugar. Then your exercising muscles also start pulling sugar from your bloodstream which can cause low blood sugar levels. If blood sugar levels drop, your brain does not get enough sugar and you feel tired and have to slow down.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: Why is sugar the main dietary cause of high triglycerides and low levels of the good HDL cholesterol?

As I explained in my article on HFCS (above), most dietary sugar is made up of two single sugars called glucose and fructose. The glucose is allowed to circulate in your bloodstream, but fructose is trapped in your liver. • First, fructose is converted to stored sugar in the liver called glycogen.
• Any extra fructose is converted to a fat called triglycerides.
• As triglycerides accumulate in your bloodstream, they can cause clotting and heart attacks, so your body has to do something to lower blood levels of triglycerides.
• Your good HDL cholesterol is used up in carrying triglycerides from your bloodstream to the liver where they accumulate in the liver to form a fatty liver. So your blood levels of the good HDL cholesterol go down (Current Atherosclerosis Reports, published online September 8, 2011).

Remember that the good HDL (Healthy) cholesterol helps to prevent heart attacks, and the bad LDL (Lousy) cholesterol helps to cause them. Drugs that raise HDL have not consistently been shown to help prevent heart attacks. The best ways to raise HDL cholesterol are to:
1) exercise
2) replace dietary carbohydrates with polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats
3) drink one or two glasses of wine per day
4) lose weight.

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Recipe of the Week:

Portuguese Potato-Garlic Soup

You'll find lots of recipes and helpful tips in The Good Food Book - it's FREE

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September 18th, 2011
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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