Health & Fitness

Ever get gas so bad your Labrador retriever whined and left the room?
The barn?
With tears in his eyes?
And slept in the pig pen to dull the smell?
Did you feel like you had swallowed a punctured basketball?
And have cramps that doubled you over in pain and popped the veins in your forehead?
And maybe spent WAY too much time in the bathroom -- with the fan on and the matchbox handy?
And did more paperwork than a guv’mint bureaucrat defending his job?

When we were 10 and up in the tree house, Stage One of that was just about as much fun as we could stand . . . especially if the matches were applied at the right moment for pyrotechnic enhancement, rather than after the fact merely to consume the fumes. At 40, in the boss’s office, even the first step is a nightmare. Any time, any age, anywhere, for anybody, the last stage or two is no fun at all. Wish you could prevent it? Wish you had a clue what causes it?

Many people do know what causes their gastrointestinal upset, and can avoid it. For millions of lactose-intolerant people, it’s milk and milk products, and Lactaid or acidophilus fixes it. For beans, it’s gradual increases and/or Beano. In both of those common cases, our bodies lack an enzyme or the specific bacteria necessary to digest certain sugars in the offending food. The right pill supplies the missing ingredients so we can enjoy those foods even if we’re adults in the boardroom. For other misdiagnosed IBS sufferers, the fix is more fiber and fluids and less refined flour.

But milk, beans, and white bread explain “only” a few million scores of faux IBS patients. Another 20 million bloated, flatulent, miserable gasbags don’t realize their nemesis is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). It’s significantly cheaper than ordinary sugar, and much sweeter, so food manufacturers (oxymoron alert!) love it. That it gives millions of people gastrointestinal misery and millions of their friends olfactory misery doesn’t bother the food manufacturers, because a lawsuit over flatulence probably won’t fly. It may burn, it may even clear the courtroom, but it won’t fly.

The obvious solution? Avoid it. The drawback? It’s everywhere. Read the list of ingredients on the labels on everything from soup to health (yeah ... right!) bars. If you suspect it makes you unpopular, try avoiding corn syrup for a week and see if the cloud dissipoots ... er ... dissipates. Foods to start with in your experiment include colas, fruit drinks, chewing gum, cookies, gum, jams, jelly and baked goods -- anything made with HFCS. If the air clears up, the dog returns from the pig pen, your Mom will visit again, and your spouse will sleep in the same room again, you may have identified one problem. Ask your doctor to give you a simple blood test, maybe even a simpler breath test, to check for fructose intolerance.

Gas won’t kill anyone unless they get too close to an open flame, but other problems HFCS promotes can kill. You’ve probably heard of them: obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

HFCS has its own devilish ways to affect our weight and fat content without violating the Prime Directive (i.e., weight is about calories in vs calories out). The digestion and metabolism of fructose differ in several specific, vital ways from those of good, old-fashioned, natural table sugar. (I emphasize “natural” because just as white bread is manufactured from wheat, HFCS is manufactured from corn; neither is natural.) Table sugar stimulates the production of insulin and leptin and suppresses ghrelin, which efficiently and properly digest and store sugar’s calories for prompt retrieval when needed for clean energy. They also tell us when we’re full so we don’t keep doing just what the food manufacturers and merchants want us to do: eat WAY past satiety. Could you drink a half-gallon tub of Big Gulp if it were water or milk or OJ rather than pop full of HFCS which disables your FULL gauge?

Confused because you know that table sugar is about half fructose, fruit is healthy, and fructose is a natural sugar present in all fruits (get it . . . fruc tose . . . fruit sugar)? Don’t be; nature packages her natural fructose with all the other enzymes, vitamins, and minerals necessary -- including the other sugar in table sugar -- to digest and metabolize and store the fructose properly. Fruit doesn’t contain a lot of fructose anyway, unlike the fat-free Kraft salad dressing whose first two ingredients are water and corn syrup. HFCS manufactured from corn is not truly food; it’s essentially a high-calorie chemical that happens to taste sweet. ITS MOLECULAR CHAIN IS A LEFT-HANDED SPIRAL, FERGOODNESSSAKES! Think about it: they also make gasoline additives for your car from corn. Hello!

This unnatural, stripped-bare HCFS enters our gut like a fight-bred pit bull enters a poodle show, daring anyone to tame it. It robs our bodies of the micronutrients required to digest and assimilate it, and much of it passes on to our large intestine undigested, at which point it often gets converted from pit bull to liquids and gasses we’d much rather not deal with. Consuming a heavy dose of straight fructose such as HFCS shortly before exercise revs up our body means more fructose gets sent on to the gas factory. Some GI tracts adapt; about 20 million don’t, which may explain the relatively low cost of gas in the United States.

What should we and our kids drink when thirsty? Uhh, WATER! Everything else is food that happens to be a liquid, and much of it junk food, i.e., man-made stuff sweetened with man-made HFCS, i.e., calories -- and maybe trots -- in a bottle.

There’s more. Gas isn’t (usually) the major threat from HFCS. There’s also obesity, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and blood clotting which may lead to strokes. Worse yet, this isn’t speculation, isolated cases, or just statistics. The mechanisms are known, the numbers are big, and the supporting studies are numerous. Evidence is growing that we should add osteoporosis and the metabolic syndrome (see our August 2000 column) to the list. The average person in the U.S. consumes enough HFCS to put on 35 pounds a year if not burned off. For those who can’t digest it, that’s a major pantsload of gas, diarrhea, and/or cramps.

Statistically, the invention and introduction of HFCS correlates exactly with the onset of our national obesity epidemic. Two town school systems are so convinced that rampant obesity is promoted by high-calorie junk drinks that they have banned soft drinks from sale on campus despite the uproar. Those towns are NYC and LA, with 3,000 schools.

When a widely published (in leading medical journals) British sugar expert, Yudkin, substituted fructose for table sugar in our diets, he found that its fructose content is hands down its major contributor to its established cardiovascular risks. He is dismayed that the USFDA approves HFCS (because it was grandfathered when table sugar was approved) despite other research supporting his research. The FDA admits it has not tested fructose or HFCS.

Fructose is touted as a good sweetener for diabetics because it doesn’t spike their blood sugar, but its impact on their already elevated heart disease risk outweighs its blood sugar benefit. Even with non-diabetics, adding fructose to the usual high-fat (e.g., low-carb) diet jacks up the diet’s inherent heart disease risk even further by increasing cholesterol and triglycerides, by 30-50% in one test.

It doesn’t even stop there. Fructose binds copper, impairing the creation of hemoglobin necessary for transporting oxygen. Copper inhibition and high fructose combine to increase free radicals which contribute to cancer and aging. Fructose also binds proteins during cooking, affecting food’s taste and nutrition. This so-called Maillard reaction also occurs in our bodies, and may be a factor in diabetes and aging.

Should we completely avoid fructose in general or HFCS in particular? No, for two reasons: a) we can’t; the water diet doesn’t work, and b) it’s not a big deal in moderation unless even a small amount ruins our social life. But at the rate the average U.S. citizen is scarfing it up, yeah . . . it’s a big deal, a big reason so many of us are getting so big, a big risk, and a big source of income for our doctors’ big boat payments. If you eat predominantly real foods, avoid large quantities of processed foods, and really cut back on the junk food and drink, you have little to worry about.

In the interest of fair and balanced reporting, we must consider that the Center for Science in the Public Interest (i.e., Nutrition Action Healthletter, Michael Jacobson, the “food nazi”), a very credible organization and a major critic of soft drinks, doesn’t consider HFCS any worse than other sugars. Maybe CSPI is right and the medical journals paraphrased here are wrong, but I’m betting on the journals this time, for now.

And to think we got all the way through this without saying “fart”.

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