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Could wellness-focused industries work with the food sector to promote healthier options?


growing body of scientifi c evidence is show- ing that fructose [a sugar molecule found in sweeteners added during food processing] can trigger processes that lead to liver toxic- ity and a host of other chronic diseases. A little is not a problem, but a lot kills – slowly.” Fructose in itself is not inherently unhealthy. It is, in fact, commonly found in fruit where, surrounded by fi bre, it digests slowly and helps keep blood sugar stable. The problem lies with the fructose in the refi ned sugars so liberally used by today’s big food manufacturers, not only in cakes, chocolate and soft drinks, but also in staples such as bread and breakfast cereal to cheese and sausages – including, ironically, many low-fat items marketed as health foods. In the US, the number one sugar additive is a mass-developed product which is called high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), while in the UK and most other developed countries, sucrose extracted from sugar cane or sugar


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beet is the additive of choice. But what both have in common is a high level of fructose (55 per cent in HFCS and 50 per cent in sucrose) and a ubiquity of which most of us are blissfully unaware. Lustig and co’s concern with fructose


is not its calorie content, but the way it is metabolised within the body. Unlike glucose, fructose is metabolised almost entirely by the liver, where it is converted into glucose and other sources of energy. However, studies have shown that when fructose is consumed in large quantities, our liver struggles to cope, leading to many of the problems associated with metabolic syndrome: hypertension, infl ammation, build-up of abdominal fat, abnormal fat levels in the blood, insulin resistance, and glucose intolerance. Left unchecked, it all points in one direction: chronic disease, ranging from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and type 2 diabetes to heart disease and stroke.


Nor does the case against sugar end there.


Many experts point to the sweet stuff’s addic- tive qualities, which some studies have shown to be similar to those of nicotine and heroin. Researchers at the National Institute for Physiological Sciences in Japan, for example, found that when mice anticipate a sugary treat, their brains release a chemical called orexin. This triggers the body to use up any sugar already in the bloodstream to pave the way for the expected infl ux. But if the sugar is not forthcoming, energy levels dip and powerful cravings follow. Lustig and his allies also highlight the effect of sugar on appetite controls. In short, they argue that the negative impact of too much fructose on our body’s insulin- producing mechanisms interferes with both production of the hormone leptin, which tells us when we’re full, and suppression of the hormone ghrelin, which tells us when we’re hungry. The end result? We can’t stop eating.


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