Sunday morning + coffee +New York Times –> straightforward. In the era of the interwebs I tend to read the Sunday Times online.
I’d been wondering about the difference between sugar and high fructose corn syrup ever since seeing the advertisements last summer reassuring me that I had nothing to worry about . They were clearly corn industry folks defending their product by claiming it was identical to regular sugar. Any time an industry advocacy group spends millions to reassure you that their product is identical to something ‘natural’ suggests you should learn more.
At the same time, I think that purity politics of food fanaticism aren’t very healthy. High fructose corn syrup is in almost everything — especially cheap accessible food stuffs. The solid explanation of just how damaging certain things are might simply leave us paralyzed.
Information seems like the appropriate middle ground. Actual information about how things work that can help to inform key decisions I have to make. THAT is useful.
With these in mind, I dove into the ten-page NYT article on sugars. To find the key distinction is in the liver. Gary Taubes writes:
“The fructose component of sugar and H.F.C.S. is metabolized primarily by the liver, while the glucose from sugar and starches is metabolized by every cell in the body. Consuming sugar (fructose and glucose) means more work for the liver than if you consumed the same number of calories of starch (glucose). And if you take that sugar in liquid form — soda or fruit juices — the fructose and glucose will hit the liver more quickly than if you consume them, say, in an apple (or several apples, to get what researchers would call the equivalent dose of sugar). The speed with which the liver has to do its work will also affect how it metabolizes the fructose and glucose.”
As the next few pages point out, when we dump heavy sugar onto our liver it process it into fat and the body increases the development of insulin. The correlative evidence has been observed for a couple of decades.
Knowledge we can use? Well two of the prominent cancer researchers quoted in the article make the case to simply avoid sugar. Here is the fairly compelling conclusion:
“But some researchers will make the case, as Cantley and Thompson do, that if something other than just being fatter is causing insulin resistance to begin with, that’s quite likely the dietary cause of many cancers. If it’s sugar that causes insulin resistance, they say, then the conclusion is hard to avoid that sugar causes cancer — some cancers, at least — radical as this may seem and despite the fact that this suggestion has rarely if ever been voiced before publicly. For just this reason, neither of these men will eat sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, if they can avoid it.
“I have eliminated refined sugar from my diet and eat as little as I possibly can,” Thompson told me, “because I believe ultimately it’s something I can do to decrease my risk of cancer.” Cantley put it this way: “Sugar scares me.”’
Aw, I ain’t scared! More beer. Whole grains. Chard. That’s what I learned. To be “free” from the illnesses which plague this society is to live in delusion. To live in frozen amber unable to move forward isn’t much better. So live and act with information.