Here in Virginia, asking your server for “sweet tea” is generally redundant. If you ask for tea, you can usually assume it will more than satisfy your sweet tooth.
Unfortunately, sugar-sweetened beverages, which contain added sugars in the form of high fructose corn syrup or table sugar (sucrose), can have much longer-lasting effects on your body than temporary refreshment on a hot day.
A new review paper published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology says sugar sweetened drinks can lead to excess weight gain and a greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.[R]
And while it’s not breaking news that ingesting large amounts of sugar is unhealthy …
Consumers need to know to look out for sugar hiding under other names such as fructose and high fructose corn syrup. That’s because these are arguably worse for the body that just plain old table sugar.
But they may not be that easy to avoid, unless you want to cut sweets out of your diet — even a once-a-day serving — altogether. That includes even supposedly healthy sugars like the kind you find in fruit.
Frank Hu, M.D., Ph.D. is a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and lead investigator of the JACC paper.
“Since we rarely consume fructose in isolation, the major source of fructose in the diet comes from fructose-containing sugars, sucrose and high fructose corn syrup, in sugar-sweetened beverages,” he said.
Dr. Hu added that “Our findings underscore the urgent need for public health strategies that reduce the consumption of these drinks.”
The paper, which reviewed data from recent epidemiological studies and meta-analyses of these studies, reveals that consuming one or two servings a day has been linked to:
• As high as a 26% greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes,
• A 35% greater risk of heart attack or fatal heart disease, and
• A 16% increased risk of stroke.
The research team also explored how fructose is metabolized in the body and its link to weight gain and the development of metabolic and cardiovascular conditions.
“Part of the problem is how fructose behaves in the body,” said Hu.
Whatever Happened to ‘An Apple a Day …’?
You see, simple sugars are called monosaccharides. They include glucose (also known as dextrose), fructose and galactose.
Glucose is readily absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract into the bloodstream. From there, it is transported through the action of insulin into the body’s cells, where it will be used as fuel.
Fructose, on the other hand, is metabolized in the liver.
There, it can be converted to fatty compounds called triglycerides. This may lead to fatty liver disease and insulin resistance, a key risk factor for developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Overconsumption of fructose can also lead to too much uric acid in the blood. This is associated with a greater risk of gout, a painful inflammatory arthritis.
What most people don’t know is that fructose is the main type of sugar in most fruits, which is leading some doctors to warn of the overconsumption of fruit.
I’m not saying fruit isn’t healthy, because it’s loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
But just like everything, it must be eaten in moderation — something that can be hard to do when fruit is generally touted as healthy in unlimited quantities.
Generally, doctors recommend a maximum of 25 grams of fructose per day. A typical apple has about 9.5 grams, a banana 7.1, a pear 11.8 and a cup of grapes 12.4.
You can see how it’s easy to go over on your daily fructose ingestion, and that’s without even adding in if you drink any soft drinks or high-sugar fruit juices, which are among the unhealthiest “healthy” drinks out there.
I believe it’s very important to monitor your fructose intake, and something that can radically improve your health if you’re currently over-consuming fructose like the average American, whose daily dose is at an amount 300% higher than the recommended 25 grams.
Slowly tapering the amount each day can be an effective course of action instead of going cold turkey and completely eliminating sugar.
How to Fight the Fructose Fire
A new study from life scientists at University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA) has found that hundreds of genes in the brain are damaged by fructose consumption.[R]
Diseases linked to these changes range from diabetes and cardiovascular disease, to Alzheimer’s disease and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The research team at UCLA sequenced more than 20,000 genes in the brain.
They identified more than 700 genes in the hypothalamus (the brain’s major metabolic control center) and more than 200 genes in the hippocampus (which helps regulate learning and memory) that were altered by the fructose.
The genes altered are among those that are responsible for regulating your metabolism, cell communication and inflammation.
Among the conditions that can be caused by alterations to those genes are Parkinson’s disease, depression, bipolar disorder and other brain diseases. This was according to researcher Xia Yang, who also is a member of UCLA’s Institute for Quantitative and Computational Biosciences.
However, this is only half the reason why UCLA’s research is so important and why I chose to write about it today.
That’s because the researchers discovered a way to not only stop brain damage from fructose, but actually reverse the damage that’s already been done.
This is a very important finding for the vast majority of us.
If you’ve doing everything you can to limit your consumption of fructose now, that’s great news.
However, years and decades have gone by for many of us without knowing the adverse health effects that came along with the sugar.
The damage was done … and we had no idea it was even happening.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) one of the main omega-3 fatty acids.
It’s commonly found in wild caught seafood, grass-fed meats, and nuts.
“DHA changes not just one or two genes; it seems to push the entire gene pattern back to normal, which is remarkable,” wrote Xia Yang
DHA occurs naturally in the membranes of our brain cells, but not in a large enough quantity to help fight diseases.
“The brain and the body are deficient in the machinery to make DHA; it has to come through our diet,” Fernando Gomez-Pinilla noted. He’s a UCLA professor of neurosurgery, integrative biology and physiology. Gomez-Pinilla is also co-senior author of the paper.
The exact mechanisms of how DHA reverses the detrimental effects of fructose need further research.
But the research team believes DHA:
• Strengthens synapses in the brain …
• Inhibits cell death …
• Helps reconnect damaged neurons … and activates genes that help cope with brain damage, while turning off those that promote brain inflammation.
The solution to reverse fructose damage is pretty simple: Eat minimal amounts of fructose … satiate your sweet tooth mostly with fruits (and in moderation) … and eat adequate amounts of DHA.
How to Get Enough DHA
As I mentioned before, the highest-DHA foods are wild-caught seafood, grass-fed meats, eggs and nuts. But seafood — especially “oily” fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines — is by far the best source.
The next-best option is a fish oil supplement high in DHA. But you really need to be careful which brand you use.
That’s because cheap fish oil spoils easily and can actually end up doing more harm to you than good.
Our favorite brand is Nordic Naturals because they use a nitrogen extraction process that protects the fish oil from oxidative rancidity.
This oxygen-free manufacturing process allows them to deliver the best freshness levels on the market, an extremely fresh product and one free from heavy metals and other toxins.