Archive for March, 2010

© 2010 Nancy Appleton, PhD and G.N. Jacobs


We have all read, seen or listened to some variation of Hansel & Gretel from the Brothers’ Grimm. A witch lives in a deep forest luring children with an edible house and sweet treats hoping to fatten them up for her cannibalistic urges. The children turn the tables as befits fairy tale heroes and get out alive.

Well, according to the newest research from Princeton University published officially in Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior[i] and for the mass market in Science Daily[ii], Hansel and Gretel would be even fatter, slower and more lethargic eating today’s sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup because the weight gain from HFCS is far greater than ordinary sucrose. This would put the outcome of tricking the witch into her own oven in doubt.

HFCS is a corn derivative that typically has 55-percent fructose, 42-glucose and 3-percent other larger sugars. It is cheaper than sucrose in the United States where it is easier to grow corn than sugar cane or sugar beets. Sucrose is a naturally occurring blend of equally balanced fructose and glucose. HFCS replaced sucrose in the early 1970s and the rate of obesity as a population percentage has doubled from 15 to 33-percent since then according to CDC figures cited by Science Daily.

The researchers conducted two experiments. One compared male rats eating rat chow and HFCS water to similar rats eating rat chow and sucrose flavored water. The weight gain was described as “much more” for the rats eating the HFCS water. The really interesting fact about this study: the sucrose water was highly concentrated at levels similar to the few sodas sweetened with sucrose still in the US marketplace, but the HFCS water was half the concentration of the typical HFCS soda.

The second study lasting six months looked at high fructose corn syrup versus water. Here the rats ballooned up with 48-percent weight gains over rats just eating food and unsweetened water. The researchers described the high-fructose corn syrup rats as obese.

“These rats aren’t just getting fat; they’re demonstrating characteristics of obesity, including substantial increases in abdominal fat and circulating triglycerides,” researcher Miriam Bocarsly reported. “In humans, these same characteristics are known risk factors for high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, cancer and diabetes.”

The researchers speculated on the reasons why HFCS might be more fattening than sucrose. Apparently, fructose molecules in sucrose are bound to glucose molecules and take longer to hit the bloodstream than the fructose in HFCS, which aren’t bound to anything. The researchers also mentioned that fructose seems to be processed in the liver into fat, while sucrose is metabolized by insulin from the pancreas and is more readily used as an energy source.

“Some people have claimed that high-fructose corn syrup is no different than other sweeteners when it comes to weight gain and obesity, but our results make it clear that this just isn’t true, at least under the conditions of our tests,” says psychology professor Bart Hoebel, who specializes in the neuroscience of appetite, weight and sugar addiction. “When rats are drinking high-fructose corn syrup at levels well below those in soda pop, they’re becoming obese—every single one, across the board. Even when rats are fed a high-fat diet, you don’t see this; they don’t all gain extra weight.”[iii]

The researchers cite previous research articles that show fructose affects hormones like leptin that work with insulin to control satiety, the feeling of being full. This excerpt from the abstract says it all – “The combined effects of lowered circulating leptin and insulin in individuals who consume diets that are high in dietary fructose could therefore increase the likelihood of weight gain and its associated metabolic sequelae. In addition, fructose, compared with glucose, is preferentially metabolized to lipid in the liver.”[iv]

Not feeling full induces more eating. In the meantime, we can imagine Hansel and Gretel being fed soda and other fructose-laden foods and winding up in the witch’s meat pie. End of story.

[i] Bocarsly, ME, et al. “High-fructose corn syrup causes characteristic of obesity in rats: Increased body weight, body fat and triglyceride levels.” Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 2010; DOI: 10.1016/j.pbb.2010.02.012

[ii] http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100322121115.htm viewed 3/30/2010

[iii] http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100322121115.htm viewed 3/30/2010

[iv] Elliott, SS, et al. “Fructose, weight gain, and the insulin resistance syndrome.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2002 Nov;76(5):911-22.


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