I'm sure you've seen the commercials. A spiffy salesman walks on screen, smiles, and says "Hi, I'm from the Corn Refiners Association, and I'm here to sell you the new American Dream. You can have all the degenerative diseases of modern civilization in a package deal so cheap it's practically free. All you have to pay for is the plastic bottle and the health care bill."
Well, they don't go quite like that.
The Corn Refiners don't allow embedding, so here's a link to one.
"Like any parent, I have questions about the food my daughter eats, things like high-fructose corn syrup. So I started looking for answers from medical and nutrition experts. What I discovered is that, whether it's corn sugar or cane sugar, your body can't tell the difference. Sugar is sugar. And knowing that makes me feel better about what she eats. And that's one less thing to worry about."
"See sweety, now I have two ways to make sure you're part of the epidemic of childhood obesity and fatty liver disease, just like all your friends."
Research supports the Corn Refiners Association's claims on this one. Although a recent study claimed that high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) causes obesity while sucrose does not, this study was thoroughly unconvincing. Over 8 weeks, rats with 24-hour access to control chow, sucrose, or HFCS had no difference in body weight. Rats with 12-hour access to HFCS had increased body weight, and rats with 12-hour access to sucrose did not. They didn't restrict any of the control rats to 12-hour access.
Their main finding was that over seven months, female rats with 24-hour access to HFCS had increased abdominal and uteral fat and increased blood levels of triglycerides, but rats with 12-hour access to sucrose or HFCS did not. None of the rats had 24-hour access to sucrose! And none of the male rats were fed sucrose. Give me a break. Control your variables, please. There was zero, zip, zilch difference between 12-hour access to HFCS and 12-hour access to sucrose.
Three points for the Corn Refiner's Association. HFCS and refined sucrose thus far appear to be equivalent.
As David Gillespie, author of the book "Sweet Poison," says, "HFCS makers have cleverly hit back with research that shows that HFCS is no worse for you than sugar, and in my humble opinion that's rather like saying that running someone over with a red truck is no worse than running them over with a blue truck."
Uh, three points for David Gillespie, and the Corn Refiners' Association is disqualified for running us all over with trucks. Gillespie can take the penalty shots.
Here's his web site, and here's his interview with Jimmy More.
And here's another cute HFCS commercial.
"It has the same calories as sugar, hunnie, and it's fine in moderation."
Aww, sweet. Poison. Wrong kind of sweet.
Speaking of honey, however, research suggests that the fructose in honey doesn't behave anything like the fructose in refined sweeteners. Isn't that a sweet surprise!
Many of us may be tempted to look at the research on fructose and sucrose and condemn honey because it contains fructose or condemn fruit because it contains both sugars. This is a bit like condemning milk and meat because casein promotes cancer growth in certain situations. Very bad idea. Let's take a look at some of the data from this study.
They fed weanling rats for two weeks on diets that were 65% (by weight of dry matter) starch, honey, or purified glucose and fructose purchased from Sigma. They provided glucose and fructose at the same ratio at which they occur in honey.
Purified fructose increased triglyceride levels, as expected. Honey seemed to increase triglyceride levels, but the increase was not statistically significant. This means it wasn't large enough to be sure it wasn't a result of random variation. It is possible that with a larger number of rats, honey would show a significant increase, but it is possible that if the experiment were repeated again, it would not show a difference at all. If honey fructose does raise triglyceride levels, it clearly does not raise them as much as purified fructose does.
After all this they took some heart tissue and mixed it with iron sulfate and vitamin C. The combination of high doses of iron and vitamin C can create oxidative stress. This test shows how susceptible the heart tissue would be to suffering damage in the face of oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress is basically the process of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) breaking apart like shattering glass, leaving behind shards that can then damage proteins, DNA and other molecules critical to cellular structure and function. For a basic beginner's introduction to this concept, see my new article "Precious Yet Perilous -- Understanding the Essential Fatty Acids." If you're sick of reading for the rest of the night, kudos for making it this far. I give a similar introduction to oxidative stress in my interview with Jimmy Moore. No reading required.
Understanding exactly why honey fructose doesn't have the same perilous effects as purified fructose will be awfully difficult. Honey contains at least 180 different substances. Some of these are antioxidants, and others affect the intestinal flora in ways that alter systemic lipid metabolism. In future posts, I'll try to unravel this mystery.
For now, we should all consider it incredibly clear that we cannot attribute the effects of isolated fructose to the fructose in honey and fruit.
I suggest we call this type of logic "Pulling a Campbell." We perform a reductionist study and form a "holistic" conclusion. God forbid we insist on performing a holistic study in order to form a holistic conclusion -- that would be far too "reductionist."
On the other hand, since honey is a plant food we would never catch Dr. Campbell making this particular logical error (unless, of course, he subscribes to the animal rights-oriented vegan view that honey exploits bees and is therefore an animal food). Many others, however, would certainly make the error, and we might be able to call it "pulling a paleo." Nevertheless, Dr. Campbell is a phenomenal researcher, and has spread this type of reasoning to the far corners of the earth with his phenomenally best-selling The China Study. Call the logical error whatever you'd like; I'll let you decide.
But let's stick to science and study honey and fruit if we want to make conclusions about honey and fruit.