Q: Is high-fructose corn syrup really that bad for us?
A: Fructose is a natural component of sugar and honey. The food industry has been using a form of it known as high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) for years because it is inexpensive and has better flavor, texture and "pour-ability" than common sugar. Table sugar, or sucrose, is fructose bonded to glucose.
The descending order of prevalence of fructose in the American diet is:
1) Sugar-sweetened beverages such as soft drinks
2) Bakery products such as pastries
3) Fruit juice and fruit. (Fruit does not have a high concentration of fructose as it contains fiber and other important nutrients. Keep in mind, whole fruit is an important part of a healthy diet.)
According to Karen Hudson, in the Department of Human Nutrition at Kansas State University, some researchers contend that when fructose is found alone, it may exhibit a different physiological effect on the body than when it is combined with glucose. This also may be true of HFCS. In fact, a few studies have found an association between high-fructose corn syrup consumption and adverse health outcomes. However, because of their preliminary nature, additional studies (including epidemiological ones) need to be conducted before any cause and effect can be drawn. In the meantime, the American Medical Association has issued a statement advising the consumer to follow the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommend limiting the amount of caloric sweeteners in our diets.
Here are some of the preliminary findings:
¢ A recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition suggests fructose can convert into body fat more quickly and easily than glucose can. Surprisingly, researchers found that when fructose was consumed by their subjects at breakfast time, the calories from fat in food they ate at lunchtime (four hours later) were more likely to be stored (as fat) than burned.
¢ Another study in the Archives of Internal Medicine indicates that there may be an increased risk of type 2 diabetes for African-American women who drink two or more soft drinks or fruit juices sweetened with HFCS per day. It is speculated that HFCS may exacerbate weight gain, due to the effect it has on insulin and leptin release.
¢ At a meeting of the Endocrine Society earlier this year, Peter Havel from University of California-Davis presented findings from his 12-week study in which one-half of 33 overweight and obese individuals were given 25 percent of their calories from fructose, and one-half were given 25 percent of their calories from glucose. Both groups gained the same amount of weight (3.3 pounds). However, subjects consuming the fructose had an increase in abdominal fat, which is linked to a higher risk of diabetes and heart disease. Those who consumed the fructose also developed a higher level of triglycerides.
Again, these studies are preliminary and require further investigation before it can be said unequivocally that there is a cause and effect of fructose or HFCS and the increase in triglycerides or other health effects.
While we wait for the results of future studies, it makes good sense to follow the advice of expert scientists who establish the dietary guidelines and limit the amount of caloric sweeteners in our diet. It is good for us and good for our children.
Q: Do the new "green bags" to store produce work?
A: The green-colored bags and green-colored disks that you place in the crisper bin of your refrigerator are intended to slow the aging or ripening process of greens, fruits and vegetables.
Both products are made with a mineral called zeolite that is supposed to absorb ethylene gas emitted by some produce such as apples. Ethylene, when in confined spaces, can speed up enzymes that break down cell walls in produce and speed up moisture loss and spoilage.
According to tests conducted by Cook's Illustrated to see if these products work, they found they really don't extend the freshness compared to storing produce without any of these products.
- Susan Krumm is an Extension agent in family and consumer sciences with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, 2110 Harper St. She can be reached at 843-7058.