I honestly believe the biggest threat to America today is not terrorism or global warming, but our health (or lack thereof).  Granted, this may be my own bias as a physician, however the facts are disturbing nonetheless.

According to the CDC, 35.7% of U.S. adults are obese.  In 2008, this cost us $147 billion.  Medical costs that year for those who were obese averaged $1,429 more than those of normal weight.  Childhood obesity has doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.  In 2012, more than one third of children and adolescents were obese or overweight.  This directly correlates to the two leading causes of death in America: heart disease and cancer.  In 2010, we spent $444 billion on treating heart disease and $125 billion on cancer.  Healthcare alone consumes approximately 18% of our gross domestic product.

I think a large part of this has to do with our ever increasing consumption of fructose in our diet.  Fructose is a naturally occurring sugar found in fruit.  It’s poorly absorbed from the digestive tract when consumed alone. However, absorption improves when fructose is consumed in combination with glucose, as in sucrose (table sugar) and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has increased more than 1000% between 1970 and 1990.  During this time, overall obesity rates have doubled.  We’re eating on average 250 more calories per day, more than 100 of which are coming from sugar.  HFCS now represents more than 40% of caloric sweeteners added to foods and beverages, and it’s estimated most Americans get anywhere from 132 to 316 calories per day from HFCS.  If you consumed your recommended daily allowance of fruits and veggies, you’d get, at highest estimations, about 15 grams of fructose.  This is far from the average of 73 grams most teenagers get daily from HFCS-sweetened drinks.

Dr. Richard Johnson writes in his book, The Fat Switch, science has learned through comparative physiology (the study of animals in nature) that the consumption of high amounts of fructose are normal.  However, it’s normal only when animals are trying to prepare for the winter or hibernation.  For a short period of time, these animals develop all of the features of metabolic syndrome.  They have increased visceral (belly) fat.  They develop fatty liver.  Their triglycerides go up.  They even get insulin-resistance.  Of course, then they go through winter/hibernation (periods of fasting) and all of these dissipate.  Dr. Johnson’s research revealed that fructose activates a key enzyme, fructokinase, which in turn activates another enzyme that causes cells to accumulate fat.  When this enzyme is blocked, fat cannot be stored in the cell. Fructose is the trigger that turns on this “switch,” causing cells to accumulate fat, both in animals and in humans.  Because we consume so much fructose year round, our bodies are always in “storage mode”.

Another pioneer in the research of fructose’s affect of the body is Dr. Robert Lustig, Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology at the University of California, San Francisco.  His work has highlighted some major differences in how different sugars are broken down and used:

  • After eating fructose, 100 percent of the metabolic burden rests on your liver. But with glucose, your liver has to break down only 20 percent.
  • Every cell in your body, including your brain, utilizes glucose. Therefore, much of it is “burned up” immediately after you consume it. By contrast, fructose is turned into free fatty acids (FFAs), VLDL (the damaging form of cholesterol), and triglycerides, which get stored as fat.
  • The fatty acids created during fructose metabolism accumulate as fat droplets in your liver and skeletal muscle tissues, causing insulin resistance and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Insulin resistance progresses to metabolic syndrome and type II diabetes.
  • Fructose is the most lipophilic carbohydrate. In other words, fructose converts to activated glycerol (g-3-p), which is directly used to turn FFAs into triglycerides. The more g-3-p you have, the more fat you store. Glucose does not do this.
  • When you eat 120 calories of glucose, less than one calorie is stored as fat. 120 calories of fructose results in 40 calories being stored as fat.
  • The metabolism of fructose by your liver creates a long list of waste products and toxins, including a large amount of uric acid, which drives up blood pressure and causes gout.
  • Glucose suppresses the hunger hormone ghrelin and stimulates leptin, which suppresses your appetite. Fructose has no effect on ghrelin and interferes with your brain’s communication with leptin, resulting in overeating.

Check out Dr. Lustig’s inspirational video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM

Other issues surrounding HFCS:

  1. More than one study has detected unsafe mercury levels in HFCS.
  2. Crystalline fructose, a super-potent form of fructose the food and beverage industry is now using, may contain arsenic, lead, chloride and heavy metals
  3. Nearly all corn syrup is made from genetically modified corn.


Read labels and avoid things like fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, crystalline fructose, sucrose, and honey.  HFCS can hide in canned, baked, or processed foods like barbecue sauces, ketchup, jams, jellies, chocolate, agave, sports and fruit juices.