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Heart Smart Living

Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.

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High Fructose Corn Syrup and Weight Gain

New analysis suggests that calories are to blame

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High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) can be found in most commercial processed foods, including baked goods, breads, soft drinks, and snack foods. Manufacturers choose HFCS over sucrose (what we know as table sugar) because it is inexpensive, maintains product softness and freshness, and combines well with other ingredients. It’s estimated that a typical American diet includes upwards of 63 pounds of HFCS every year, accounting for as much as 10 percent of our daily caloric intake. With the alarming upswing in obesity over the past several decades paralleling our escalating consumption of HFCS, many have wondered whether HFCS itself is at fault.
To help answer this question, Canadian researchers from the University of Toronto rigorously reviewed and synthesized the results of 41 medical studies that examined the effects of fructose on body weight. In those research trials in which a fructose-loaded diet was compared to a diet without added fructose, but the calories were kept constant, there was no effect at all on body weight. When daily calories were increased by bumping up fructose intake, the participants’ body weight appeared to increase simply to the extent that calories were increased.
Does this mean that it’s fine to devour HFCS with abandon? Of course not. Many people are, in effect, sugar addicts, and the glut of HFCS-based products provides them with a quick, easy, and inexpensive high. What’s worse, the surge in insulin levels brought on by simple carbohydrates like HFCS will also cause sugar levels to plummet a few hours later, launching the snacking cycle all over again. While calories from HFCS may not tip the scales any more than any other product with a similar calorie count, HFCS-based foods may both feed and foster the cravings that can lead to obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. 
Avoiding processed foods and choosing a diet closer to nature will help to break the sugar craving cycle that’s virtually guaranteed to bring you down. Start by choosing a small helping of fruit, nuts, whole grains, or unsweetened yogurt when you’re in need of a quick snack. Drink water instead of soft drinks or HFCS-sweetened juices. You’ll find that not only do you need less food to satisfy your hunger, but by thwarting those gyrating blood sugar levels, you’ll be less apt to snack a few hours later.

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About the Author


MD, FACC

Dr. Samaan is an acclaimed cardiologist, writer, and heart health educator.

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