Come January 1st, many of us will resolve to limit sugar in our diets. Of course, then weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll spot a donut, and all bets are off. But if there was ever a time to seriously reconsider our consumption of the sweet stuff, now would be it: New research is linking one particular sweetener to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
The sweetener in question is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which earlier research has suggested is linked to obesity and heart disease. The syrup is sweeter and cheaper than sugar, making it a mainstay for many USÃ‚Â packaged snacks and sodas. But now researchers, writing in the journal Global Public Health, warn that more high fructose corn syrup also means more diabetes. They analyzed data from 43 countries and found a 20% higher prevalence of type 2 diabetes in countries that use it, compared to countries that donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t.
In countries that donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t use HFCS, like India, Ireland, and Sweden, researchers found that type 2 diabetes occurred at an average rate of 6.7%. Big consumers of HFCS, like the US, Hungary, and Canada, had average rates of 8%. The trend existed irrespective of a countryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s overall sugar intake or obesity levels.
Might HFCS really be one culprit of diabetes? Study author Michael Goran, PhD, professor of preventive medicine, physiology & biophysics, and pediatrics at the University of Southern CaliforniaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Keck School of Medicine, thinks so. HFCS has about 10% more fructose than sucrose, and fructose is metabolized almost solely by the liver. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a lot of work for one organ, and Goran says that this extra kick of fructose might contribute to HFCSÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s negative metabolic effects.
Goran adds that he sees several big differences between HFCS and sugar. Though both are highly processed, sugar is purified from a natural source, he says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“High fructose corn syrup is processed from corn. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s also enzymatically converted, so itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s much more synthetic than sugar,Ã¢â‚¬Â Goran notes. Another difference is that the syrup is a solution, while fructose and glucose are bonded together to form table sugarÃ¢â‚¬”potentially meaning that HFCS is more rapidly absorbed by the body.
Even worse, knowing how much HFCS youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re consuming is nearly impossible, since food companies donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t disclose those specifics on food labels.
Already, the research is inciting controversy. The Corn Refiners Association, before the study had even been published, issued a press release critiquing it as Ã¢â‚¬Å“severely flawed.Ã¢â‚¬Â In particular, HFCS being associated with diabetes doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t mean the syrup causes the disease, the association says.
To be fair, many diet and lifestyle factors contribute to diabetes, and more research is required before we can fully understand how they intermingle. But one thing is for sure: We could all probably stand to eat fewer sweets. HereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s how to start:
Ditch the soda Consider this recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine, which found that swapping one sugary beverage for one sugar-free option per day translated to kids gaining 35% less body fat than their peers. Plus, those extra calories from HFCS and sugar donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t make you feel fuller, which can lead to even more eating. (Mulling a diet soda instead? Before you pop the top, read these 7 Side Effects Of Drinking Diet Soda.
Find a sweet substitute Add sweetness, without the sugar or corn syrup, by opting for clever substitutes like grated carrots or organic milk. The subs might seem surprising (beets in brownies?) but trust usÃ¢â‚¬”you wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t notice a difference. Check out these 10 Ways To Sweeten Without Sugar for a substitute thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll suit any recipe.
Exercise Breaking a sweat can help you beat sugar cravings, says Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH, a nutrition expert and author of The Hunger Fix. Even a walk can do the trick, so get moving!Ã‚Â (Cold weather is no excuse to skip it! Find out how to Winterize Your Walking Program.)
photo: Comstock/Thinkstock More from WH:
The Rise of Type 2 Diabetes in Healthy Women
Make Your Own Health Sodas
The Truth About 4 Natural Sweeteners
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