Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Sweet and Sour Fructose Debate

     Whether it makes us fat or not, “fructose” is just fun to say--one of those words that seems both silly and sinister at the same time.  The paradoxes don’t end there.  I run across scores of articles and editorials about the various forms of sugar, and the opinions are all over the place. Some want to regulate and tax sugar while others seem to fall into the “you’ll have to pry my Twinkies from my cold, dead hands” camp.  Maybe it depends on how it’s defined, how much is used, and how often it’s used, but even scientific research appears polarized. These two recent articles show one example of the conflicting opinions: 1. These scientists from across the world claim this study provides new insights into how fructose causes obesity and diabetes. 2. According to this study, some research shows that fructose might be blamed unfairly for the obesity epidemic. 
     I grew up in the pre-fructose age, so it was much easier to avoid the sugar wars.  Amazingly, I was able to satiate my sweet tooth while still hitting several basic food groups.  Fruits and veggies are examples.  We didn’t get candy often, but when we did, it came as something that sounds at least pseudo healthy.  Orange Slices? OK, so they may not contain much vitamin C, and there was no disguising the sugar. This candy was shaped like real orange slices, but the sugar granules sparkled on the outside and the chewy orange content stuck to your teeth for hours.  Lemon Drops? Gotta get your citrus, and this flavor-filled hard candy could be handled in two ways. You could suck it slowly until your tongue, gum, and inner cheek went numb with a sugar high, or you could chomp down for a burst of flavor. Well worth an occasional chipped tooth.  Jelly Beans (what? they’re not really a legume?) were by far the most interesting.  My brothers and I would divide them, trade them, and occasionally fight over them. 
     These sugar highs were part of a long-ago childhood, but I don’t recall folks debating fructose or any other form of sugar much back then. Most kids on the farm seemed naturally hyper because we were constantly running around outside. I never heard the word “obese” in my school days, but I did hear more about tooth decay then. I’m not sure if sugar was to blame, but toothpaste ads had animated characters attacking cavities, and our local dentist had plenty of kids sitting in his huge, uncomfortable chair. An ex-army dentist, he was a fine man who apparently did not believe in pain killers and who knew only two words: “Open wide.”
     So, does sugar cause obesity and diabetes?  You can find “scientific research” to back various opinions; it’s probably best to stay as informed as possible and listen to your own body. We all know that a Homer Simpson diet will not lead to a svelte, swimsuit body. And most know that an unbalanced diet and over consumption are probably going to cost us in the long run. I’ve even accepted the fact that fresh oranges and edible soybeans are better for me than the candied versions. But we all have our fructose safety zone. Mom still makes an amazing cinnamon roll, and somehow it seems to cover all the essential food groups. by dan gogerty, photo from usda-ars

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