When it comes to the fructose in HFCS, there’s no getting away from ‘overconsumption’

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September 22, 2012

In Wednesday’s Chicago Tribune, reporter Monica Eng covered the scientific debate over fructose, including mentioning the Citizens for Health petition filed with the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) last month calling for accurate labeling of fructose amounts in HFCS-sweetened foods and beverages.

Eng’s article, headlined “Some health experts sour on fructose,” reported on “fructose dominant” sweeteners – namely high fructose corn syrup formulations that contain amounts of fructose higher than what has been determined to be safe by the FDA (which is no more than 55 percent), in some cases as much as 90 percent.

The Citizens for Health petition is asking the FDA to take action against food and beverage manufacturers using these ‘high fructose’ versions of HFCS, and in the interim, to have them provide accurate label information so consumers know how much fructose is in the HFCS-sweetened food they are buying. (You can sign that petition here, and read it by clicking here.)

The Tribune article also mentions a 2010 study led by Dr. Michael Goran, director of the Childhood Obesity Research Center at the University of Southern California, which found that several popular HFCS-sweetened sodas contained up to 65 percent fructose, not the 55 percent version the Corn Refiners Association has said that these drinks contain.

Of the other experts interviewed by Eng, including Youtube sensation Dr. Robert Lustig (who continues to inaccurately refer to HFCS beverages as “sugar-sweetened drinks” in interviews), most seem to agree that higher fructose amounts “would be more damaging” to the body and that fructose-percentage labeling would be of benefit to consumers.

The ‘missing link’ the ABA failed to take into account

But one apparent dissenter, Dr. John Sievenpiper, a researcher at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, a critic of the anti-fructose movement, is quoted in the Tribune story as saying that “going after this one ingredient has distracted us from the major issue, which is overconsumption.”

Sievenpiper, senior author of a study published this year which reviewed 18 trials (none of which he conducted) came to a conclusion that was well received by industry, especially the American Beverage Association (ABA). Reporting on the study the very next morning after its publication under the headline A calorie is a calorie, the ABA’s take of Sievenpiper’s work was that “…fructose – one of the simple sugars contained in the common sweetener HFCS – is not linked to extra weight gain.”

However, when Food Identity Theft spoke with Sievenpiper in July, he claimed that while below 50 grams of fructose a day does not appear to be triggering any ill effects regarding lipids, blood pressure, uric acid, glycemic control and weight gain,  it’s another story when you go to higher levels.

Relying on what he called the “best data” available, Sievenpiper said he believes the “average (fructose) intake in the U.S. is about 49 grams per day…the 95th percentile intake is 87 grams per day,” and “adolescents are probably consuming 100 grams or more per day just from soda.”

“When we looked at hyper-caloric feeding trials,” he added, “…we do see a very clear, robust and consistent signal for harm. So yes, if you overfeed fructose you do see weight gain, you do see an increase in uric acid and you do see an increase in triglycerides.”

Sievenpiper said at amounts over 60 grams a day, less fructose than what the Tribune story stated would be consumed in an HFCS-sweetened large McDonald’s drink, you will see an increase in triglycerides. And by his own calculations, two regular-size cans of soda with HFCS would put you above the “average” mark with 50 grams — that is if it contained HFCS 55, not the higher amounts found in the Goran study. And what about HFCS 90 and all the other “fructose dominant” versions of HFCS?

“The problem is that fructose is not on the label, either in Canada or the U.S.,” said Sievenpiper. “To be honest, I don’t know what the impact might be, I have more questions than answers,” he added.

But, based on what he told us, one thing seems evident: “overconsumption” may very well have become the norm when it comes to the fructose “jolt” from HFCS.