The past 40 years have seen parallel increases in soft drink intake and obesity in the United States. Unbelievably, the average consumption of sweetened soft drinks is now 12 ounces per person per day. Each year, the soft drink industry produces approximately 52 gallons of sugar-sweetened and diet soda for every man, woman, and child in the U.S. — a tenfold increase from just 60 years ago.
Today, nearly 75 percent of adolescent boys and 62 percent of adolescent girls consume these drinks on any given day.
So what’s wrong with soft drinks? The main villain is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Most soft drinks (including most “juices”) are sweetened with HFCS. In fact, HFCS represents over 40 percent of the sweeteners added to our diets.
And it’s not just in soft drinks; HFCS is found in baked goods, canned fruits, jams and jellies, and even dairy products.
Why do manufacturers use fructose instead of sugar? That’s easy: It’s much sweeter and costs less to manufacture. One study found that fructose is 2.3 times sweeter than sugar. You might think there’s no difference between HFCS and regular sugar (sucrose), but there is a big difference in how these two substances affect the body.
Sucrose is made up of two simple sugars — fructose and glucose — bonded in a single unit called a disaccharide. The ingestion of this disaccharide causes the pancreas to release insulin; this allows the cells to take up the glucose in order to make energy.
While HFCS is also made up of fructose and glucose, the amount of fructose is higher and the sugar molecules are monosaccharides (unbonded single molecules) rather than disaccharides. As a result, the body has a difficult time using HFCS as an energy source. Instead, ingestion of HFCS results in excess fat storage.
Another important difference between sucrose and HFCS is how they affect appetite. Both insulin and leptin, two hormones that are related to appetite control, are sensitive to glucose. This means that when glucose is ingested, insulin and leptin are released, allowing the body to recognize when its appetite is satisfied.
However, these hormones are relatively insensitive to HFCS. Ingestion of HFCS leads to a deficit of these appetite control hormones, resulting in an unrestrained appetite.
Part of the reason that the body is unable to properly process HFCS is because this substance was introduced to the human diet relatively recently. It was developed approximately 40 years ago as a cheaper, sweeter substitute for sugar. Human beings simply don’t have the tools to convert HFCS into usable energy. Nevertheless, the food industry was more than happy to save money adding HFCS to as many products as possible.
The obesity epidemic we are currently facing is the direct consequence of adding HFCS to food products.
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