Have you ever looked at the list of ingredients on the foods you buy? I can guarantee that you’ll be hard put to find even one item that does not contain fructose in one form or another; it could be straight fructose, or masquerading as corn syrup, or sucrose (table sugar) whose content is 50% fructose. I recently checked 10 items in my foray to the local Safeway store. Of the packaged foods, all ten contained fructose in one form or another. It’s found in ketchup, fruits, jellies, pastries, and many processed foods. Even sugar substitutes can have high fructose corn syrup in them.
So what of it? Plenty.
Fructose and metabolic syndrome
One of the hallmarks of metabolic syndrome diagnosis is insulin resistance. What it basically means is the following: When glucose level in the blood gets to a certain level, glucose sensors in the beta cells of the pancreas initiate a commensurate release of insulin. The insulin binds to its receptors in the various tissues, and that results in uptake of the glucose by the cells and its utilization for energy and storage.
But something funny happens on the way to the insulin receptor when fructose undergoes metabolism. One of the end products is uric acid. Yes, the same compound that ends up in the urine, and that can cause such unpleasant things like kidney stones and gout. But uric acid turns out to do even more harm. It causes the cell to become insensitive to the message that insulin is trying to convey: Take up more glucose from the blood. The end result is increased blood glucose levels, or hyperglycemia. And this, in turn, leads to obesity and diabetes type 2.
The new food indexes
You will start seeing on the packaging of the foods you buy the nutritional value scale. One of these scales will use a numerical value, on a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being the most nutritious. Others will use a star system, with 3 stars being the “best for you.” This is a laudable effort, initiated by academics specializing in nutrition science.
But the subject of nutrition is so complex that I am sure each one of these scales will be subject to withering criticism. One of the reasons is that of real foods, no substance acts in isolation. Grapes contain glucose, but dark-skin grapes also contain a high concentration of antioxidants. How do you balance the two? Or more relevant to the point of this article: Apples, for instance, are high in fructose but also contain many other substances that far outweigh the latter’s deleterious effects. Will the new scales be able to account for that?
Be vigilant. Check the label and look for fructose in all its disguises: corn syrup, corn fructose, or just fructose hiding in plain view. Sounds a bit paranoid? Next time when you are in the supermarket, do the experiment. Check out the labels and you’ll be amazed.
Interestingly, most food companies blamed the rising costs of corn (which nowadays is diverted to another political boondoggle, corn-based ethanol) for their poor financial results and the need to raise prices in the last two quarters. Corn, you might ask, in oat or wheat cereals? Yes, check the label. It is laced with corn syrup, which is nothing but a high-concentration solution of fructose.
Another interesting thought. Could it be that our obesity/diabetes epidemic is not entirely due to excess calories per se, but partly due to the ubiquitous fructose in our foods? This is quite conceivable; fructose is a food of extremely high glycemic value (namely, causes a rise in blood sugar) because of its high caloric content and because of its glucose resistance action.
Featured photo credit: picjumbo.com