Chuck, so what’s the skinny on fructose and high-fructose corn syrup? They’re in everything! – R.L. in Florida

Last week, I began to explain the pros and cons of sugars and the effects of too little or too much glucose in the body. I then proceeded to define some of the most common sugars you’ll find hiding in foods and drinks. If you missed the first part of the series, you can find it here.

Here are two more of those covert sugary devils, maneuvering into your bloodstream through food and beverage additives:


Fructose, or fruit sugar, is a monosaccharide, meaning it can’t be broken down into a simpler sugar. It is found in many plants and natural food sources – such as fruits, vegetables, molasses, maple syrup, honey and agave nectar.

Originally marketed by some as healthier than table sugar, fructose is the sugar additive in most processed foods and beverages, lining every shelf of the grocery.

Nutritionists and scientists alike have noticed consumption of fructose has risen radically since the 1970s, right alongside obesity. Just a few weeks ago, USA Today reported on another clinical study that proved fructose can “trigger brain changes that may lead to overeating.”

One of the study’s leaders, Yale University endocrinologist Robert Sherwin, said MRI scans showed that drinking glucose “turns off or suppresses the activity of areas of the brain that are critical for reward and desire for food.”

But with fructose, “We don’t see those changes,” he said. “As a result, the desire to eat continues; it isn’t turned off.”

So there is in reality no skinny in fructose!

High-fructose corn syrup

Over the decades, high-fructose corn syrup has replaced cane sugar and beet sugar as the drug (I mean, sweetener) of choice for soft drinks, candies and a plethora of processed foods.

High-fructose corn syrup was billed as not only a manufacturer’s cheapest sweetener, but also a healthier alternative to table sugar. Hogwash! Fructose makes up about 50 percent of sucrose and 50 to 55 percent of high-fructose corn syrup. Chemically, they are about the same. (Remember from Part 1 that sucrose – table sugar – is made up of one molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose.)

The first peril of high-fructose corn syrup is that it is found in so many things, including diet sodas, syrups, desserts, salad dressings, cereals, barbecue sauces, ketchups, breads, yogurts and peanut butters.

The second peril of HFCS is that it has been clinically linked to life-threatening diseases.

In a study presently being conducted by Dr. Kimber Stanhope, a nutritional biologist at the University of California, Davis, excess HFCS consumption has been linked with increased risk factors for heart disease and stroke, suggesting calories from added sugars are different from and more harmful than calories from other foods. In other words, calories are not all created equal or “empty,” either!

Stanhope reported that “subjects who consumed high-fructose corn syrup had increased blood levels of LDL cholesterol and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease” within just two weeks of increasing their sugar-based foods.

Stanhope explained that too many sugar-based treats overload the liver with fructose, converting some into fat that goes into the bloodstream and helps produce dangerous low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, which clogs blood vessels. (Unlike glucose, which is metabolized by every cell in the body, fructose is metabolized primarily by the liver.)

To add insult to injury, excess processed fructose also can cause insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes.

HFCS has gotten such a bad name lately that its makers appealed to the Food and Drug Administration to change the name of their product to “corn sugar,” but the FDA ruled last year it would not change the term – yet.

Interestingly, Monica Eng of the Chicago Tribune reported on a 2010 study published in the journal Obesity: “Some of America’s most popular soft drinks (Coke, Pepsi and Sprite) can be formulated with corn sweeteners that are nearly 65 percent fructose.”

And if that doesn’t turn your stomach, consider that for several years now, one maker of HFCS, Archer Daniels Midland, has been marketing a product called Cornsweet 90, with 90 percent fructose.

Eng added, “The FDA says it doesn’t know how much HFCS-90 or other ‘fructose dominant’ sweeteners may be in the food supply, and neither the American Beverage Association nor the Corn Refiners Association responded to Tribune questions about where and how those sweeteners are used.”

Some advocacy groups, such as Citizens For Health, have petitioned the FDA to request that the agency mandate disclosure of fructose levels in food, just as it requires manufacturers to list trans fats on ingredient labels.

Lastly, for those paranoid that fruits are full of sugar, too: Remember that fruits are not the fiberless, empty-calorie, processed foods on the grocery shelves. Fruits contain natural, God-given fructose in small amounts, and they also are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber, which provide additional nutrients and slow down its absorption and prevent insulin spikes. And the carbohydrates in fruits – like the ones in bread, pasta and healthy cereals – are common sources of glucose, which our bodies need.

That’s why Rachel K. Johnson, professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont, told CNN, “There’s no need to avoid the naturally occurring sugars in fruit, vegetables and low- and non-fat dairy.”

But when buying fruit in the can, buy only those immersed in water. Don’t buy the ones immersed in heavy syrups, which are often loaded with, you guessed it, HFCS.

Next week, I will discuss the “natural sugar substitutes” and also convey a battle plan for lessening your sweet tooth and limiting sugars in your and your family’s diet.

Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at

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