Debunking ‘Sugar Is Toxic’ & Other Myths

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Douglas J. Peckenpaugh, Community Director of Content/Culinary Editor

Each year, the Experimental Biology conference draws members of the scientific community together—including those from the health and nutrition sector—to explore the latest and greatest findings in the name of science. Last Sunday, April 22, 2012, at Experimental Biology 2012 in San Diego, one of the sessions, “Fructose, Sucrose and High-Fructose Corn Syrup: Relevant Scientific Findings and Health Implications,” resolutely debunked two sweetener myths—one rather dated myth that continues to linger in the mind of the general population regarding any scientific differences between the metabolic activity of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and sugar, and another piece of misinformation that has begun recirculating as a result of recent national television coverage, namely that sugar is toxic.


HFCS = Sugar

A primary thrust of this Experimental Biology session was to analyze the established and emerging scientific evidence regarding the metabolic effects of HFCS, sucrose and fructose to determine if fructose is truly a metabolic danger or if it is simply a distraction impeding more potentially fruitful areas of scientific research related to the causes of hypertension, diabetes and metabolic syndrome. The session was sponsored by the prestigious American Society for Nutrition, one of the member societies in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

“The intent of this symposium was to give this very distinguished audience the latest scientific information on these three sugars: sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, and fructose,” says Dr. James Rippe, cardiologist, founder, Rippe Lifestyle Institute, and one of the symposium’s invited speakers. “There is a lot of controversy and a lot of misinformation and confusion related to those three sugars. A lot of people don’t know that high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose are basically the same in terms of their composition. They’re both about half fructose and half glucose.”

Sucrose is comprised of half glucose and half fructose, while HFCS comes in different ratios: HFCS 55, which is 55% fructose and 45% glucose; HFCS 42 is 42% fructose and 58% glucose. Fructose is simply 100% fructose.

“But a lot of people are confused about that,” says Rippe. “So we thought this would be a great time to bring together, for a debate, some of the people who have been very vocal in terms of their comments about the three sugars and express what the current science shows.”

The symposium’s first speaker was John White, Ph.D., a sugar biochemist, founder and president, White Technical Research. “He laid out in great detail the equivalence of high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose and reminded us all that we don’t consume fructose by itself in our diet, basically, for all intents and purposes,” says Rippe. “We always consume it as fructose and glucose,” a vital consideration to factor into studies on the metabolic impact of fructose. “He gave a lot of detail about the metabolism of sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup and contrasted it with some of the studies that have been done with pure fructose vs. pure glucose, which we don’t consume in any appreciable degree.”

Another speaker, Dr. George Bray, is chief of the Division of Clinical Obesity and Metabolism, Pennington Biomedical Research Center. “He has been very vocal in his belief that sugar-sweetened beverages, whether sweetened with sucrose, which is the prevalent sweetener around the world, or high-fructose corn syrup, which is the prevalent sweetener in beverages in the United States, are a significant factor in the obesity epidemic that we have in the United States,” says Rippe. However, he notes, Bray bases that argument “largely on epidemiologic studies—studies of large population groups—which he acknowledged do not establish cause and effect.”

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