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The two sweeteners differ in their effects on body
It is known that both sugar and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) used as sweeteners affect health. But a study has now shown that table sugar is the lesser evil of the two.
The study conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado’s School of Medicine in the US suggests that both the sweeteners have different effects on the body in the first few hours after ingestion. Published in the journal Metabolism, the study shows it is the composition of the two sweeteners that results makes the difference and determines how much fructose is absorbed in the blood and its subsequent health impacts.
Table sugar or sucrose contains equal parts of fructose and glucose bond together as a disaccharide (complex carbs) while the HFCS is a mixture of free fructose (55 per cent) and free glucose (45 per cent). It is this difference in fructose that affects the body.
Sucrose is broken down in the gut by sucrase. This then allows the free glucose and fructose to be absorbed and enter the systemic circulation. Although sucrase is a fast enzyme, there are studies showing that the activity of sucrase can be inhibited by various factors, including genetic polymorphisms (diversity within a population). This would then decrease the amount of glucose and fructose available for absorption in the body since sucrose is not being broken down as quickly or efficiently. This would then result in lower bioavailability of fructose.
However the study has its limitations. “The main limitation was that the sucrose in the soft drink was already being broken down. This prevented us from seeing the effect of sucrase on the bioavailability of fructose. But since soft drink is a main source of sugar in the Western diet, we believed it provided more social relevance. Interestingly, even with the sucrose broken down, this study did still find slight differences in various factors which suggests that fructose is the key factor in driving the differences,” says Le.
The study also does not address the impact on children below 18 years, as the age group selected was 18-52 years and the long-term impact of corn syrup. “Our study shows that there are slight differences between HFCS and sucrose. It appears that the higher consumption of sweeteners along with greater exposure of fructose may be an important driving force behind the drastic rise in various health issues, such as obesity and diabetes. However, long-term studies are needed to ascertain if HFCS leads to greater metabolic issues than sucrose,” says the author.
HFCS is popular in the West especially the United States for a couple of reasons. First, it comes from corn. Since this is highly subsidised by the government, the cost of corn is relatively cheap. Thus, it is less expensive for Western societies to create HFCS from corn than it is to import sugar. The other reason is that HFCS is very stable and is a liquid. This makes it easier to handle and mix in various foods and consumable items.
What is then a good substitute for HFCS? The authors point out that there are no good substitutes for HFCS. Even artificial sweeteners have been shown to cause negative health effects. The consumption of sugar either from HFCS or sucrose is astronomically high. Overall, consumption of sweeteners needs to be reduced not substituted.
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