Fructose, in the form of high fructose corn syrup, has gotten a lot of negative press recently. Some studies show that a diet high in fructose, especially high fructose corn syrup, increases the risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity. If that’s not bad enough, a recent study showed a high fructose intake also increase the risk of high blood pressure in healthy people without hypertension.
High Fructose Foods and the Risk of Hypertension
In a study published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrologists, researchers looked at the fructose intake of 4528 healthy adults with normal blood pressures. They found among adults without hypertension, those who had a fructose intake of seventy-four grams of fructose daily or more were at higher risk for high blood pressure, even when other risk factors and dietary habits were taken into account.
How much is seventy-four grams of fructose a day? A quantity that thousands of people consume each day without even thinking about it. Seventy-four grams of fructose is the equivalent of drinking two-and-a-half soft drinks a day. How many people do you know who do that?
This raises the question – is the highly processed diet Americans eat and the soft drinks they drink the reason hypertension and heart disease is on the rise?
Foods High in Fructose are Everywhere
In case you haven’t noticed, high fructose corn syrup is no stranger to supermarket shelves. It’s hiding in many processed foods including unlikely sources such as bread, salad dressings, soups, and ketchup.
Where does high fructose corn syrup come from? Manufacturers produce it using enzymes that convert glucose into fructose. The resulting fructose sugar is then changed to a liquid by mixing it with corn syrup.
Manufacturers love using high fructose corn syrup because it’s inexpensive. In other words, it’s good for the bottom line. In fact, it now accounts for about 40% of the sweeteners used in the United States.
Soft drinks are one of the biggest sources of fructose intake in the American diet – but far from the only one. Other common sources of high fructose corn syrup are packaged condiments, salad dressings, cereals, yogurt, candy bars and other packaged foods.
Why are High Fructose Foods and Beverages so Bad?
One researcher found soft drinks high in fructose contain highly reactive chemicals called carbonyls. Carbonyls are compounds that are often elevated in people with diabetes. These unhealthy compounds are believed to be responsible for some of the complications people with longstanding diabetes experience such as heart disease and kidney disease.
Because carbonyls are so unstable and reactive, it’s easy for them to attach to tissues – and cause damage. It’s not clear whether carbonyls account for all of the damage associated with high fructose foods and beverages – or whether they’re responsible for the increased risk of hypertension in people who have a high fructose intake, but it certainly raises questions!
Other Problems with High Fructose Corn Syrup
As if heart disease and high blood pressure aren’t enough of a reason to avoid high fructose corn syrup, they aren’t the only ones. This ubiquitous sweetener is linked with obesity and elevated triglycerides, which may partially explain their link to heart disease.
Fructose Intake and Hypertension: The Bottom Line?
An increased risk of hypertension is another potential risk of eating high fructose foods and drinking soft drinks – as well as a higher risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes. The best plan is to avoid foods containing high fructose corn syrup, as much as possible, until science decides what the risks of this common sweetener truly are.
Medscape.com website. “High Fructose Intake Linked to Higher Blood Pressure” Accessed 06/19/10.
Science Daily website. “Soda Warning? High-Fructose Corn Syrup Linked To Diabetes, New Study Suggests” Accessed 06/19/10.
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Physiol Res. 2010;59(2):147-56. Epub 2009 Jun 19.