How Sweet it Ain’t

Ah, it’s that time of year again. Turkeys getting stuffed, people getting stuffed and “leave room for dessert.” We love our sweets, and over time our sweet tooth has increased to where the average American eats 15-20 grams of sugar a day, primarily as sweet snacks or sugar sweetened beverages (Carbonated Soft Drinks -CSDs). (1) When we were young we worried about getting cavities, as we got older we worried about getting fat, but we still increased our sugar intake as we aged, and overall as our society aged. Over the years, children and adolescents increased their consumption of sugar sweetened beverages as more of them became available and more readily available in the ubiquitous ‘soda machines’. (2) Of course, ‘sugars’ are of different types, and how the body metabolizes the sugar in fruit and milk differs from how it metabolizes the refined sugar added to processed foods. For the sake of this discussion, ‘sugar’ (sucrose) is refined from sugar cane (to remove the molasses) or a sugar-like sweetener (High Fructose Corn Syrup -HFCS)produced as starch in corn is digested with heat and enzymes to make corn syrup. This process is very involved, requires heat, acid, multiple enzymes and a small amount of mercuric chloride. (3) The sweet syrup still contains some undigested oligosaccharides as well as 5-hydroxymethyl-2-furfural (HMF) which is a known toxin. HMF contents in both sucrose and HFCS are very high (406.6-2121.3 mg/kg for corn syrup and 109.2-893.1 mg/kg for cane syrup), which arouses concern about food safety of these products. (4) In addition, analysis of carbonated soft drinks (CSD) has shown significant degradation products of sugar components, namely -dicarbonyl compounds (5) which most of us associate with diabetes. There is clear evidence that dicarbonyl stress is a contributing mediator of obesity and vascular complications of diabetes. (6,7) While sucrose contains glucose and fructose, it seems that spiking additional fructose (as in HFCS) may not be a good idea since it has been associated with fatty liver and other biochemical changes. (8) We also know, that in many common CSDs there is even more fructose than you might believe from the use of HFCS as a sweetener (as high as 65%). (9) So now we know that the ‘sweetness’ we seek, may have some downsides, but is this new? It turns out that some of the issues uncovered with sugar experiments in rodents were somehow never fully completed in experiments or published. A recent article in JAMA Internal Medicine exposes a 1960s study, which suggests a link between a high-sugar diet and high blood cholesterol levels and cancer in rats, was sponsored by the sugar industry, and when initial findings were presented to the sponsor, the funding disappeared. (10). A more recent article from the same authors suggested that the Sugar Research Foundation sponsored a research program that successfully cast doubt about the health hazards of a high-sugar diet and rather promoted fat “as the dietary culprit” in health concerns such as heart disease. (11) So, there you have it! That is part of the reason the new dietary guidelines call for reducing sugar intake roughly in half. (12) Coca-Cola anyone?



2) Sugar sweetened Beverage Consumption Among U.S. Youth 2011-2014. Rosinger A, Herrick K, Gahche J, Park S. National Center for Health Statistics Data Brief No. 271, January 2017

3) High Fructose Corn Syrup

4) In house validation fro direct determination of 5-hydrosymethyl-2-furfural in corn and cane syrups samples by HPLC-UV. deAndrade JK, Komatsu E, Perreault H, Torres YR, daRosa MR, Felsner ML. Food Chem. 2016;190:481-486

5) Analysis of sugar degradation products with -dicarbonyl structure in carbonated soft drinks by UHPLC-DAD-MS/MS. Gensberger S, Glomb MA, Pischetsrieder M. J. Agri. Food Chem. 2013;61:10238-10245

6) Post-Glucose Load Plasma α-Dicarbonyl Concentrations Are Increased in Individuals With Impaired Glucose Metabolism and Type 2 Diabetes: The CODAM Study. Maessen DE, Hanssen NM, Scheijen JL, van der Kallen CJ, van Greevenbroek MM, Stehouwer CD, Schalkwijk CG. Diabetes Care. 2015;38:913-20

7) Dicarbonyls and glyoxalase in disease mechanisms and clinical therapeutics. Rabbani N, Xue M, Thornalley PJ. Glycoconj J. 2016;33:513-25.

8) Added fructose as a principal driver of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: a public health crisis. DiNicolantonio JJ, Subramonian AM, O’Keefe JA. Open Heart. 2017; 4(2): e000631

9) Sugar Context of Popular Sweetened Beverages Based on Objective Laboratory Analysis: Focus on Fructose Content. Ventura EE, Davis JN, Goran MI. Obesity 2010;19:868-874

10)Sugar Industry and Coronary Heart Disease research: A historical analysis of internal industry documents. Kearns CE, Schmidt LA, Glantz SA. JAMA Intern. Med. 2016;176:1680-1685

11) Sugar industry sponsorship of germ-free rodent studies linking sucrose to hyperlipidemia and cancer: An historical analysis of internal documents. Kearns CE, Appolonio D, Glantz SA. PLoS Biol. 2017;15:e2003460

12) Dietary Guidelines for Americans: 2015-2020 (Accessed 11/25/17)


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