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Healthy Living

Scary Sugar Facts and Findings

By Sheryl Kraft

Created: 08/05/2010
Last Updated: 01/17/2019

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If you read my blog regularly, you may know by now that if someone put something salty or sweet in front of me, I'd grab the sweet stuff.  It's not just because I'm staying away from salt, since salt causes my blood pressure to soar. I have a big-time sweet tooth; always have.

But now I'm really going to approach sugar with the same caution I do salt.  You too, may love the sweet stuff - but so do things like cancer cells.

When researchers at the University of California Los Angeles studied two sugars, glucose and fructose, they found a big difference in the way tumor cells reacted. And their findings may help explain why previous studies have linked an oft-times deadly cancer (pancreatic cancer) to fructose.

As reported in , Dr. Anthony Heaney and his colleagues at UCLA's Jonsson Cancer Center wrote, "These findings show that cancer cells can readily metabolize fructose to increase proliferation." When the scientists grew pancreatic cancer cells in lab dishes, feeding them both glucose and fructose, they found that the metabolism of the two sugars were different. The cells used the fructose to proliferate.

It's too bad that Americans are consuming really large quantities of this sugar, usually in the form of high fructose corn syrup. It's cheap, easy to produce, and satiates the sweet tooth of lots of consumers. And it's making me crazy that so many manufacturers are claiming there is no difference between plain old table sugar and fructose, otherwise known as high fructose corn syrup, or HFCS.

What a complicated web it spins…

For years, it's been argued that sugars are partially to blame for the growing obesity epidemic (not to mention illnesses like diabetes, stroke and heart disease). In the April 5, 2010 issue of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Michael Jacobson of the Center for Responsible Nutrition wrote that in the 1970s, teens drank about twice as much milk as soda but by the 1990s, that trend reversed and twice as much soda as milk was the norm. When Jacobson analyzed government data in 2005, the findings were startling and scary: teenage boys who drank soft drinks consumed an average of three 12-ounce cans per day and girls drank an average of two 12-ounce cans. That's a LOT of calories and a LOT of dangerous sugar.

Don't even get me started on the other things I've been reading about it, like the dangerous amounts of . Nearly one in three of the 55 brand-name foods made with it contained mercury, found the Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), a non-profit watchdog group.

Where else is this sugar hidden? Not just in soda. I was surprised to learn that it is in many unsuspecting places, like breads, cereals, candy, lunch meats, soups, condiments - even "healthy" foods like some yogurts, low-calorie snacks and low-fat salad dressings.

This matters> Beware: check the labels. If you're scouting out this type of sugar, it's not enough to look for "high fructose corn syrup" in the ingredient list. Oh, no. It's disguised by other harmless-sounding names - among them, inulin, glucose-fructose syrup, iso glucose, chicory and fruit fructose.

You may also want to read:

And to see what the sugar you're eating actually amounts to (you'll be shocked),


Yet another reason to eat lots of whole grains and vegetables and limit our intake of processed, packaged, sugary snacks.

Like we needed any more, right?

Thanks for this warning. My brother in law and the husband of my best friend both died of pancreatic cancer. I have been reading labels ever since a guest visited our B&B with a daughter who has allergies. Then I saw Food Inc. and realized HFCS is in everything! I feel for mothers, responsible for young children. Life has really become a minefield.

Thank you for another great post! Reading food labels is a full-time job. I've been doing it for several years, trying to identify salt, soy, gluten and, more recently, the high-fructose corn syrup. I really appreciate knowing the additional names to watch for!

I normally shop on the outer aisles of the grocery store, not so much in the middle, and that helps. But you still have to watch out for things like you mentioned: breads, cereals, etc.

Oh, thank you for this reminder! Thank you. The big problem with my diet is that *my* diet gets quite sugar-heavy during pregnancy because of my nausea (and I've had four babies!). I don't put on weight so at first glance it doesn't seem as though it is affecting me but I fear that deep down it's taking its toll, and this confirms that sad fact for me.

I hate it, in particular, that the powers that be make it so difficult to eat well.

Chicory? I would never have guessed that was bad news! We try to eat foods with as few ingredients as possible, but so, so many people are just not aware of this. If every person in the nation watched Food, Inc I think there could be a revolution. The worst thing is that this junk is cheap, and people on a budget are forced into consuming crap.

So is it okay to eat lots of fruit, Sheryl? That contains glucose, right?

Yup. No HFCS in fruits, fortunately.

I had no idea about the connection between fructose and cancer. These days, I'm concentrating on the outer aisles of the grocery store too. But fructose is such a sneaky little chemical, appearing in all sorts of food items that I'd never expect.

I'm so entirely afraid of high fructose corn syrup - I avoid it all costs. I nearly went into a fit when those pro-HFCS commercials came out. Here's one of them, if you want to check it out:

Doesn't it make you want to scream?

Yes, I'm really screaming now. What a shame this commercial is on the air.

I've had fructose and any -ose really on my radar for years. My mom is allergic to corn and I became the official label-reader growing up. It is amazing how many foods you'll find with an -ose (or two or three) tucked inside. And this was before anybody thought twice about corn syrup sugars. It's good, though, that many grocers are taking notice. Costco now has several fructose-free products--even ice cream.

You must have been a very well-informed kid, Kristen. Was not aware of the fructose-free items at Costco - will have to take a look next time I visit.

So true. You basically have to stop eating packaged foods to avoid it completely. And sugar is probably bad, too. It's crazy what we are doing to our food supply. We're just killing ourselves slowly.

Yes, no packaged foods - if you can help it. But it's really hard to stay away completely, isn't it?

HFCS has been on my radar for some time and I just don't understand why nothing is being done to combat it! The fact that it feeds cancer cells is just one more reason why the government should stop subsidizing this junk.

I couldn't agree more. We, as consumers, are getting duped. What a shame that this stuff is so available and yet so dangerous.

Thank you for this info.Buyers beware and always read the ingredients even on things that say no sugar added because they are substituting hfcs for sugar in many products like cool whip etc. and adding sugar to frozen veggies like steam fresh.So beware it's no longer easy to eat sugar free.

I've been researching inulin and from what I've read elsewhere it's a completely different thing than HFCS and actually has some potentially very beneficial effects. Could you point me towards further research that says they are the same?

I've to confess that i generally get bored to learn the whole thing but i feel you may add some value. Bravo !

It’s important to keep sugar in perspective, and counsel overall dietary balance – as opposed to vilifying any single ingredient. For example, USDA data shows that the vast majority of additional calories in the average American diet – 84% -- derive from fats, oils and starches. The same data shows that sugar, from all sources, plays a relatively minor role contributing just 9%. Bottom line: sugar, and sugar-sweetened beverages, can be integrated into a balanced diet and is not the pariah some would claim: . Balance and moderation should be the focus of dietary recommendations, rather than advocating for restrictions, which the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) says can cause consumer confusion.
-American Beverage Association


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