The Sugar Fix: The High-Fructose Fallout That Is Making You Fat and Sick
by Richard J Johnson
The Fructose Factor
A Sugar Like
A century ago, few Americans were overweight. Heart disease
and diabetes were rare medical conditions. Today, people who
are plump and paunchy outnumber those who are thin and fit
attacks are the leading cause of death. The incidence of diabetes
has exploded into a full-blown epidemic.
What happened? How could such dramatic changes to overall
health occur during this relatively brief period in human history?
I believe the rise of obesity and these formerly rare diseases can
largely be traced to a single factor. Unlike a disease-carrying
microbe, however, this culprit is hiding in plain sight—on the
shelves at your local supermarket, in the cooler at the convenience
store, and very likely in your refrigerator and kitchen cupboard.
The goal of this book is to help you understand, identify, and avoid
this menace. What’s more, I am going to show you how to reverse
the damage it may have already caused in your system.
You don’t need to be a doctor or scientist to see the most obvious
signs of this scourge’s handiwork. Simply walk through a shopping
mall or playground—that is, if you haven’t already noticed the problem
in your bathroom mirror. In other words, consider how the American
physique has changed over the years.
In the 19th century, few people in this country worried about their
waistlines. It’s not that our ancestors didn’t care about their weight.
The fact is, fat people were extremely rare, typically found among
the upper class. After all, only the wealthy could afford to overindulge
in rich, decadent foods back then. In 1890, for example, a survey of
more than 5,000 white males in their fifties found that just 3.4 percent
However, that once-lean population has gone the way of hoop dresses
and top hats. Today, 32 percent of Americans are obese. What’s more,
according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an additional
one-third of Americans are overweight, meaning they are not quite obese
but still have an unhealthy amount of body fat. When you do the math, it
adds up to an alarming problem: Two-thirds of Americans are either obese
or overweight. However, unlike in the 19th century, weight problems afflict
all segments of the population—rich and poor, young and old, every race
and educational background. The nation’s schoolyards may offer the most
view of this epidemic: One in three children in the
is overweight or obese.
Doctors and public health authorities are alarmed by the nation’s growing
girth for good reason. Carrying around excess weight increases the risk
for deadly conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and kidney disease.
What’s more, being fat in a culture that idolizes slender and beautiful
celebrities can be psychologically crippling. But what’s most worrisome,
and most puzzling, is why obesity rates are rising so rapidly. On the eve
of the American bicentennial—in 1975, when the nation had been in existence
for nearly 200
years—the obesity rate in the
Since then, in a period of just 30 years, the obesity rate more than doubled.
Why? What has
Frustrated dieters often blame their genes. Perhaps you have tried to lose
weight in the past, but you couldn’t shed those extra pounds. Or maybe you
managed to trim down, but the weight eventually returned. If so, in the back
of your mind, you may have been tempted to blame your parents. After all,
if you have your mother’s eyes or your father’s smile, doesn’t it make sense
that you got your chunky thighs or bulging belly from them, too?
In fact, scientists have isolated genes that may be linked to obesity. But we merely
inherit a tendency for one body shape or another from our parents. Whether or not
you become overweight and obese depends largely on the lifestyle choices you
make—that is, what foods you eat and how much exercise you get. Further, when
you consider the bigger picture, it’s hard to imagine how genetics could possibly
be blamed for the current rapid rise in obesity. After all, the human genetic code
dates back millennia. Has some mutation in the human genome occurred across
uncontrollable weight gain? That’s highly unlikely. In fact, such a genetic alteration
would have to be occurring in populations all over the world, because obesity
rates are rising in countries across the globe.
Instead, something must have changed in our environment that is exploiting the
human tendency to accumulate body fat. A couple of obvious candidates come
to mind. For instance, you no longer need to be wealthy to eat a waist-expanding
diet. Thanks to advances in farming, manufacturing, and shipping, delicious
high-calorie foods are cheap and widely available. Meanwhile, Americans burn
fewer calories each day than our ancestors did, due to the rise of laborsaving
devices, from the lawn mower to the laptop computer.
But while there is no doubt that Americans eat too much and don’t exercise
enough, I believe that some other mechanism has contributed to the disturbing
unprecedented weight gain that has swept across the
recent years. Reams of data that have emerged from research labs over the
past decade indict a specific food: a common form of sugar called fructose
that most of us eat every day.
consume 30 percent more fructose today than in 1970. Our rising
consumption of this sugar began at roughly the same time that obesity rates
in the United States were climbing sharply. In the pages that follow, I will
explain why I believe these corresponding trends are intimately linked—why
feeding on so much fructose is fueling a public health catastrophe in the
by limiting your exposure to this dangerous sweetener.
The Fructose Connection
Fructose has always been part of the human diet, since the first hungry forager
plucked an apple from a tree or berries from a bush. That’s because fructose,
as the name suggests, is the main form of sugar found in fruit. Honey is another
abundant natural source. What’s more, half of every crystal of refined sugar
consists of fructose, too.
If you have read much about fructose lately, that’s probably because it is the
critical component in a controversial sweetener called high-fructose corn syrup
(HFCS), which is used in a wide variety of processed foods and beverages.
Most brands of soda and many kinds of candy contain HFCS. If you were to
start reading product labels, you’d find that HFCS is also in many foods that
might surprise you, such as pasta sauce, yogurt, soups, ketchup and other
condiments, and sandwich bread. In 1970, the average American consumed
less than 1/2 pound of HFCS per year. By 2000, per capita consumption of
the corn-based sweetener had risen to more than 42 pounds per year.
Critics call HFCS “Frankensyrup” and other damning names, blaming it for
outbreak of obesity, especially among children in the
In later chapters, I’ll examine HFCS more closely and sort out some of the
claims its defenders and detractors have made. For now, though, here’s the
important point: There is mounting scientific evidence that consuming too much
fructose, no matter where it comes from, can make you fat and increase your
risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and kidney disease.