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If HFCS didn't cause epidemic, what did?

Published November 17. 2012 09:02AM

You hear from your old neighbors that your new neighbor was once convicted of murder. So you search on the Internet and find out otherwise.

He didn't pull the trigger in a botched break-in eight years ago. But he did drive the getaway car.

That makes him an accessory, an accomplice rather than a killer.

Would that fact make him less culpable in your eyes?

Would it change the way you deal with him? Would you suddenly invite him to your Christmas party or keep still your distance?

Keep that story in mind while I do my journalistic duty and report the findings of an article published in the September issue of International Journal of Obesity. It reviewed all prior high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) research and concluded that HFCS is no better or no worse than sugar, an opinion already expressed by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Medical Association.

One of the article's authors, Dr. James M. Rippe, a professor of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Central Florida and the founder and director of the Rippe Lifestyle Institute, said, "At this point, there is no evidence to suggest that the use of HFCS alone is directly responsible for the increased obesity rates or other [current] health concerns."

If you notice Rippe's use of "alone" and "directly responsible," you may recognize why my article began the way it did. So HFCS didn't pull the proverbial trigger Rippe is saying. But he's not denying HFCS's involvement, either.

While I don't have access to every study Rippe and his colleagues had to make their pronouncement, I do know about one out of every four American adults was overweight in 1977, two out of every three American adults were that way by 2001, and consumption of HFCS jumped 135 percent from the first date to the second.

And that after a brief leveling, American adults are packing on the pounds again and the long-term prognosis is disastrous.

In a recent projection made public in September by Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, obesity defined as having a body-mass index of 30 or more will escalate at such a rate that two out of every three adults in the state of Mississippi will be so by 2030. The state's current rate is 36 percent, so that's a projected increase of 86 percent in 18 years.

Furthermore, 12 other states will have obesity rates exceeding 60 percent, 39 states will be above 50, and every state average will be greater than 44 percent by 2030.

Something is horribly, horribly wrong, and if HFCS isn't "directly responsible," for it, what is? Could it be that we simply consume too much of all sugars, HFCS included?

After all, according to Jacob Teitelbaum, author of Beat Sugar Addiction Now!, the average American consumes 150 pounds of the basically nutritionally worthless stuff a year.

While excessive sugar in any form is probably at least partially responsible for the obesity epidemic, regular consumption of sugary drinks certainly is, according to research performed at the Harvard School of Public Health and published in September in the New England Journal of Medicine.

In this study, Harvard researchers reviewed data previously collected on nearly 200,000 people. From this, they were able to ascertain that those who drank at least one serving of a sugary beverage a day were twice as likely to be overweight than those who drank no more than one sugary beverage a month.

This finding led Frank Hu, a professor at Harvard and co-author of the study to declare that sugary beverages "are one of the driving forces behind the obesity epidemic."

But earlier statistics released in 2010 in the Journal of the American Medical Association leads you to believe that sugars added to solid foods deserve blame, too. This research determined that the average amount of added sugar to the diets of the 6,100 adults studied totaled 21.4 teaspoons of sugar a day, an increase of 45 percent from research begun in 1977.

Adding about 335 nutritionally void calories to your daily total can not be a good thing, whether you eat or drink those calories. Not only does the practice make it more likely that you don't ingest the necessary amount of vitamins and minerals, but it also makes you more likely to overeat.

Most dietary sugars quickly increase blood sugar, which increases insulin secretion, which begins a chain of metabolic events that ultimately add fat to your fat stores while making you feel as if you never had anything to eat.

So while this new study finds HFCS no worse than other forms of sugar in creating the obesity epidemic, and I felt the need to inform you of that, I'd be remiss if I wouldn't remind those interested in optimal fitness to steer clear of all forms of fructose, a key component in HFCS. No new research has contradicted this long-held scientific fact: fructose cannot by used by the muscles as fuel.

Fructose goes directly to the liver and tops off its energy stores. But the liver can only house a small amount of stored energy.

All other fructose becomes fat.

And it does so more readily than any other nutrient besides dietary fat.

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