For years, I’ve sneered at conspiracy junkies who claimed that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) was worse for you than common table sugar. “Sugar is sugar is sugar,” I’d declare. They all make you fat if abused.
Well, I was wrong. In a recent study, a Princeton University research team led by psychology professor Bart Hoebel (or “Bart’s Angels” as I call them) fed two sets of rats sucrose and HFCS. As it turns out, the corn syrup rats got much fatter.
The team have a couple theories as to why this happened. Here’s the one I find most credible:
As a result of the manufacturing process for high-fructose corn syrup, the fructose molecules in the sweetener are free and unbound, ready for absorption and utilization. In contrast, every fructose molecule in sucrose that comes from cane sugar or beet sugar is bound to a corresponding glucose molecule and must go through an extra metabolic step before it can be utilized.
This creates a fascinating puzzle. The rats in the Princeton study became obese by drinking high-fructose corn syrup, but not by drinking sucrose. The critical differences in appetite, metabolism and gene expression that underlie this phenomenon are yet to be discovered, but may relate to the fact that excess fructose is being metabolized to produce fat, while glucose is largely being processed for energy or stored as a carbohydrate, called glycogen, in the liver and muscles.
This is both fascinating and terrifying. It’s fascinating because I don’t know how Natalie Portman, who I assume is the woman in front and on the left, has time to attend Princeton with her busy film career and all. It’s terrifying because HFCS completely dominates the American diet. According to the Princeton press release, the average American eats 60 pounds of the stuff annually.
So the next time you’re about to drink a vial of syrupy orange liquid handed to you by a sexy grad student, make sure to ask what’s sweetening it. Your hips will thank you.
Photo: Denise Applewhite (Seriously, this is the photo that Princeton wants the media to use.)