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Complementary Corner

Oh, How Sweet "It" Is!

Renee Lehman

(2/2012) Sweetie Pie, Honey Bun, Sugar Daddy, Sugar Lips, Sweet Pea, and Sugar Pie. What do these have in common? They are all nicknames that represent a term of endearment. The inference is that the person you are referring to is as sweet as sugar. And the presumption for this is that sugar is sweet, which is true. However, what is even sweeter than standard table sugar? High fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and fructose (if sugar is a 100 on the sweetness scale, HFCS is 120, and fructose is 173).

This month I will be writing about the amount of sugar that Americans consume and its effects on the body. In March, the article will deal with Traditional Chinese Medicine’s view of sugar, and in April the article will deal with hidden sugar in foods, and alternative sweeteners.

Sugar and Sweetener Consumption

Over the past 35 years, the total amount of added sugars and caloric sweeteners available in America has increased. According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service’s per capita food availability data, our consumption of sweeteners increased from 119 pounds per person in 1970 to 132 pound in 2010 (this had actually peaked at 156 pounds in 1999). America’s sugar consumption in 2010 was 66 pounds per person (50% of total sweetener consumption), while HFCS consumption in 2010 was 64.5 pounds per person (approximately 50% of total sweetener consumption) (

HFCS was discovered in 1966 in Japan and was introduced to the USA in 1975. It is corn syrup that has been processed to increase the fructose content and then blended with pure corn syrup. It was so cheap, about ½ the price of sugar (made from cane and beet sugar), that it made its way into everything (replacing regular sugar). Plus, when the low-fat diet became so popular in the 1980s, HFCS was added to processed foods because it made the low-fat processed foods more palatable!

In a 2008 press release, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) stated that scientific evidence demonstrates that there is no difference in the health effects of HFCS and sugar.

To make sure that we are all on the same page, know that table sugar, also known as sucrose, is made up of 50% fructose and 50% glucose. HFCS is 42-55% fructose and 45- 58% glucose. Just remember how much sweeter fructose is than sucrose (and glucose, which is a 74 on the sweetness scale).

Finally, fructose does not suppress ghrelin (a hormone that comes from the stomach, and stimulates the brain to increase appetite). Fructose does not stimulate the hormone insulin because there is no receptor cell for fructose in the pancreatic cells that make insulin. Because it does not stimulate insulin, it therefore, does not stimulate the hormone leptin (which that tells your brain that you are full). What is the importance of this? If you were to drink a regular soda prior to a meal, even though you have just consumed 150 calories from the soda, you will not eat less. You would actually eat more because your appetite would not be suppressed, and your feedback loop that normally tells you that you are full would not be stimulated (

Sugar Metabolism in the Body

(Video reference: Sugar: The Bitter Truth (July 30, 2009), Robert H. Lustig, MD)

Let’s say that you consume 120 calories of glucose (2 slices of white bread). Then 96 calories (80% of the total calories) will be used by every cell in the body, because every cell in the body can use glucose. The other 24 calories (20% of the total calories) will be metabolized by the liver. This will result in: 1) the stimulation of the pancreas to make and release insulin, 2) the production of ATP (our basic source of energy), 3) the storage as glycogen in the liver (for energy production later on – for example, when running a marathon), 4) and will create citrate that is involved in the cycle that turns sugar into fat (in the form of Very Low Density Lipoprotein, VLDL). As a side note, VLDLs are one of the things that cause heart disease. But, the main point here is that out of 24 calories, you end up with about ½ of a calorie of VLDL. Also, since insulin is stimulated, this will "shut off" your eating.

Fructose Metabolism in the Body

(Video reference: Sugar: The Bitter Truth (July 30, 2009), Robert H. Lustig, MD)

Let’s say that you consume 120 calories of orange juice which is 50% glucose and 50% fructose (per the USDA). A total of 60 calories come from glucose (48 calories will be used by every cell in the body, and 12 calories will be metabolized by the liver). The 60 calories coming from fructose will all go to the liver since only the liver can metabolize fructose. In total, 72 calories must be metabolized by the liver (12 from glucose and 60 from fructose). This will result in creating the waste product, uric acid, because of the initial stages of fructose metabolism. You probably have heard of uric acid. It is excreted by your kidneys, and is known to cause gout. Therefore, fructose consumption increases your risk for gout (Choi and Curhan, British Medical Journal, 2008; 336:309). Uric acid also causes high blood pressure. Therefore, consumption of fructose increases your risk for high blood pressure (Johnson et al., American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2007; 86(4)). In fact, there is a significant relationship between HFCS sweetened beverage consumption and the increased incidence of gout and high blood pressure in adolescents (Nguyen, et al., Journal of Pediatrics, June 2009).

Also, citrate will be created during fructose metabolism. Remember that this turns sugar into VLDLs. This time, though, it produces many more VLDLs (fat) than from the glucose metabolism! Therefore, when you consume fructose, it is like you are consuming FAT! Plus, because the hormone leptin is not stimulated, the brain doesn’t know that you are full and you continue to eat! Therefore, one is at an increased risk for developing obesity (Lustig, et al., International Journal of Obesity, 2004; 28).

Finally, long term fructose metabolism creates fatty acids which accumulate as fat droplets in the liver and muscle tissue. These fat deposits lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver and insulin resistance which in turn can progress to Metabolic Syndrome (a combination of obesity, type 2 diabetes, lipid problems, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease). Even if you don’t develop metabolic syndrome, you are at a higher risk for developing high blood pressure, dyslipidemia (abnormal amounts of blood lipids), pancreatitis, obesity, and insulin resistance, among other medical problems.

Now you may be thinking that fructose is found naturally in fruits and vegetables. This is true. Some examples include: honey (1 Tbsp) has 9 grams/serving; a medium size apple has 11 grams/serving; 1 cup of blueberries has 7 grams/serving; and a medium tomato has 2 grams/serving. Are you wondering if they are "bad" for you? Well, as Dr. Joseph Mercola stated in an article on his website ( on January 2, 2010: "If you received your fructose only from vegetables and fruits (where it originates) as most people did a century ago, you’d consume about 15 grams per day — a far cry from the 73 grams per day the typical adolescent gets from sweetened drinks. In vegetables and fruits, it’s mixed in with fiber, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and beneficial phytonutrients, all which moderate any negative metabolic effects."

Other Ways that Sugar Effects Your Health

Sugar consumption will suppress the immune system for several hours after ingestion. Sugar can contribute to hyperactivity, anxiety, depression, concentration difficulties, and crankiness in children. Sugar interferes with absorption of calcium and magnesium. Sugar can produce an acidic stomach. Sugar can speed the aging process, causing wrinkles and grey hair (Appleton, Lick the Sugar Habit (1996) Avery, 2nd edition). There are more consequences from chronic over consumption of sugar than I have space on this page.

I would recommend that you watch the YouTube video entitled, Sugar: The Bitter Truth (July 30, 2009). In it, Robert H. Lustig, MD, of the University of California at San Francisco Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism talks about sugars and their effects on our bodies. I also recommend the New York Times Magazine article, Is Sugar Toxic? by Gary Taubes on April 13, 2011 (

Renee Lehman is a licensed acupuncturist, physical therapist, and Reiki Master with over 20 years of health care experience. Her office is located at 249B York Street in Gettysburg, PA.  She can be reached at 717-752-5728.

Read other article on well being by Renee Lehman