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The Sour Side of Sweet

While the corn syrup industry maintains that corn syrup, sugar, and several fruit juices are all nutritionally the same, new research suggests that fructose—a type of sugar found in soft drinks and many other foods—may lead to excess weight gain.

Fructose, usually listed as high fructose corn syrup in a product’s ingredients, adds to the sweet taste that people enjoy in many foods and beverages. But the cravings for that sweet taste may drive people to guzzle soft drinks and overeat sugary foods. In a “super-size” world it is not uncommon for people to drink 24 ounces or more of soft drinks that contain fructose every day, but the latest research suggests that limiting fructose and soft drinks may have a direct impact on the waistline.

Soft drinks may lead to weight gain

A review of the relationship between fructose and weight gain found that people who drink higher amounts of fructose-containing soft drinks gain more weight than people who avoid them or drink them less. People who drank the most soft drinks also had the highest increase in body mass index (a measure of overweight and obesity) over a two-year period compared with people who drank the least.

In addition to weight gain, too much fructose may contribute to other health problems. A recent study showed a connection between fructose and diabetes in African American women. “Increased fructose intake has been associated with the metabolic syndrome, increased lipids in Swiss children, and increased gout in men,” said George Bray, author of the review and a professor at Pennington Center at Louisiana State University. “Triglycerides may also be increased. Thus my advice is to reduce your fructose intake where possible.”

Kick the high-fructose habit

While many factors contribute to obesity, diet is the most important. Excess calories and large servings at meals definitely contribute to the risk of weight gain. A lack of physical activity can also significantly add to the pounds. But according to this latest news, a person wanting to watch the waist would be well advised to limit high-fructose foods and drinks. Here are some tips to consider:

• Choose beverages wisely. Bray states that to optimize health and prevent disease, the most preferred beverages are water or non-sweetened teas or coffee. The least preferred are soft drinks or fruit drinks (not to be confused with fruit juice) and he recommends that people drink 8 ounces per day or less of these least preferred drinks.

• Read labels. Fructose is added to a surprising amount of beverages and foods including cereal, cookies, cocoa, and hundreds of other products. Check labels to see if there is fructose which may read as “high fructose corn syrup” in the ingredients, and limit those items in your diet.

(Int J Obes 2008;32:S127-S31)

Jane Hart, MD

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