Literatus: Mysterious sub revealed

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014


OUR mysterious substance (sub) in drinks, particularly soft drinks, has no “satiety impact” despite its “being” a carbohydrate, as mentioned in a previous outing in Breakthroughs. That makes us suspect that this substance is not a natural carbohydrate because carbohydrates by nature fill you up.

The substance is not new to me. I often encountered it in labels but never suspected there is something more to it. The name is as innocent as any other simple sugar I encountered during my med-tech days. When I stumbled upon it in studies I reviewed lately, the study results surprised me.

In (food) labels, the substance is called “high fructose corn syrup” (HFCS). The name is really self-explanatory. Fructose simply means “fruit sugar,” the simple sugar found abundantly in fruits. The “corn” pointed to Zea mays as its source, perhaps the sweet corn variety. (Perhaps corn can now be categorized as a “fruit,” you may have observed.) The term “syrup” gets you to think that fructose is simply liquefied through a “laboratory” process, just like any cough syrup you know. “High” simply indicates that this syrup is a concentrated form of fructose.

At times though what appears simple may not be that simple at all.

HFCS is a group of corn syrups that went through reactions with enzymes to convert some of its glucose content into fructose. Being liquid makes it easier to transport to any location and blend with other food ingredients.

HFCS-42, the form mostly used in beverages, processed foods, cereals and baked foods, contains 42 percent fructose, 53 percent glucose, and five percent glucose oligomers. It is less sweet than sucrose.

HFCS-55, mostly used in soft drinks, contains 55 percent fructose, 42 percent glucose, and three percent glucose oligomers. It is relatively as sweet as table sugar (sucrose).

HFCS-90, often used in specialty formulations such as blending with HFCS-42 to make HFCS-55, contains 90 percent fructose and 10 percent glucose. And it is sweeter than sucrose.

The problem potentially comes from the metabolism of fructose, primarily in the liver.

The Bray study in 2013, published in Advance Nutrition, noted that energy as ATP decreases rapidly in the body during the metabolism of fructose as the phosphate in its molecules is drawn to fructose, converting it to lipid precursors. Thus, it enhances fat formation in the body as well as uric acid production.

The Lowndes study published in Nutrients on March 17 noted that overweight and obese adults taking sugar-sweetened beverages increased their accumulation of fat tissue around internal organs, especially the liver.

Considering that HFCS is the No. 2 most-widely used dietary sugar additive around the world, blind-drinking may certainly bring us into trouble later on. Take sweets if you must, but avoid HFCS for your own good.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on June 11, 2014.

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