Industrial Sugar

by | Jan 11, 2022 | Nutrition

The large-scale manufacturing of sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup means these industrial sugars have now become ubiquitous in the processed foods that fill grocery aisles.

Most people have heard of at least two kinds of sugar—table sugar, also called sucrose, and blood sugar, called glucose.

Glucose is a primary fuel source for the body, along with fat. It can be used as-is by every cell in the body to generate energy for the chemical and muscular activity necessary for survival, and can also be used as raw material in the creation of other substances essential to survival.

Glucose is produced largely by the breakdown of carbohydrates found in food. In fact, a primary form of carbohydrates in our food actually just consists of many glucose molecules stuck together; that’s called starch.

But gradually, over the past hundreds of years, another source of glucose has become increasingly popular—the rather simple molecule that we call sucrose, or table sugar. But sucrose is not just glucose, it is 50% glucose and 50% a different a kind of sugar that is found naturally in fruits and flowers, a sugar called fructose.

And in 1957, a third source of glucose + fructose was invented, by taking the starch found in corn and chemically converting some of the glucose in that starch into fructose. The resulting manufactured food product is called high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Sucrose and HFCS are both forms of what we might call “industrial sugar.” 

For most of human history, fructose was not easily available in a concentrated form. All that changed with the large-scale manufacturing of sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup, which have now become ubiquitous in the processed foods that fill grocery aisles. Our bodies, however, have not changed to deal with the sudden bursts of fructose that come with eating those processed foods.

Why does that matter? Because, unlike glucose, fructose must be processed by the liver to become usable by the body. During an onslaught of fructose, such as might occur after eating a bowl of high sugar breakfast cereal or a generous helping of high-fructose corn-syrup catsup, or drinking a soda, the liver has no choice but to convert much of the fructose to fat.

You might be wondering where that fat goes. Unfortunately, so much fat is generated during an onslaught of fructose that a lot of it doesn’t go anywhere—it stays in the liver. And when fat accumulates in the liver, the normal function of that very vital organ is impeded, and that can and often does have serious health consequences over the long term.

Is there a connection between the rapid increase of certain types of disease in populations which have also dramatically increased sucrose and HFCS consumption? You might find an answer to the question in the fact that nutritionists or dieticians never recommend that people add more sugar to their diet. And if you want a more direct answer, the references for this article offer several good places to start. 

Fundamentals of Health Alliance

Fundamentals of Health Alliance

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The Fundamentals of Health Alliance works to publish useful and reliable information about nutrition and health. Their mission is to empower readers to be informed with honest, non-biased information about food, nutrition and the vital components of health.

References:

  1. Douard, Veronique, Ronaldo Ferraris. “Regulation of the fructose transporter GLUT5 in health and disease.”
  2.  Food and Drug Administration. “High Fructose Corn Syrup Questions and Answers.”
  3.  Hannou, Sarah, Danielle Haslam, Nicola McKeown, Mark Harman. “Fructose metabolism and metabolic disease.” 2018 Feb 1.
  4. Timberlake, Karen C. General, Organic and Biological Chemistry: Structures of Life. 4th Ed. Glenview, IL: Pearson Education, Inc. 2013.
  5. Tymoczko, John L., Jeremy M Berg, Lubert Stryer. Biochemistry: A Short Course. 2nd Ed. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company. 2013.

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