Still Chugging Sodas? Think Again
Manufacturers of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) are among the most strident deniers when it comes to the health effects of their products. HFCS is handled by the body no differently than table sugar (sucrose), they like to claim. Both sucrose and HFCS contain fruit sugar (fructose). The amount of fructose in HFCS is marginally greater than the amount in sucrose, though.
Emerging evidence suggests that neither one is good for you, especially when consumed in liquid form. In fact, soft drinks are the single biggest source of added sugars consumed by most Americans. That’s not to say fructose is inherently bad. It’s nature’s sweetener of choice, after all. The liver is perfectly capable of handling the relatively small amounts of sugar contained in an orange, for instance. It takes time to eat a piece of fruit, and whole fruit’s fiber further slows the absorption of fructose into the bloodstream. This gradual release of fructose appears to make all the difference. So there’s no reason to avoid fruit. On the contrary, fresh fruit is undeniably good for you.
But when you drink fructose in the form of sweetened beverages, such as sodas, you liver is confronted with far more fructose, far more quickly, than it can easily process. Too much fructose overtaxes the liver, in much the same way drinking too much alcohol strains the liver’s ability to metabolize it. If you drink enough sugar water (soda) often enough, you could end up with the sort of liver damage that doctors used to discover only among diseased alcoholics. Even the name of this increasingly common disorder— non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) — reflects this disturbing fact.
Once rare, NAFLD is clearly on the rise. It’s estimated that about 31% of adults and 13% of children in the United States are now suffering from NAFLD. And sugar—specifically fructose—is believed to be a chief culprit. Others will progress to a condition called non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), which involves fatty deposits, inflammation, and scarring in the liver. About one-quarter of those patients will progress to outright non-alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver. By then, a liver transplant is needed, or the patient could die. Over the past three and a half decades, the number of patients diagnosed with NAFLD or NASH has doubled. And NASH is now the third-leading reason for liver transplant.
All of which underscores two things: If you are interested in preserving your health, step away from the sweetened beverages. And reach for fruit—with a side of water—instead.
Sugarscience.org website. Research page. “The Toxic Truth: Too Much Sugar Can Damage Your Liver…” Accessed Nov. 12, 2014 at: http://www.sugarscience.org/the-toxic-truth/?searched=NASH&advsearch=allwords&highlight=ajaxSearch_highlight+ajaxSearch_highlight1#.VQyFt1w2Ur4
Asheley Cockrell Skinner, Joseph A. Skelton. Prevalence and Trends in Obesity and Severe Obesity Among Children in the United States, 1999-2012. JAMA Pediatrics, 2014; DOI: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2014.21