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Rat Has No Control: High Fructose Corn Syrup, Cane Sugar, Glucose, Sucrose

roadskater's picture

Many years ago I saw a documentary on PBS. Something about stress in animals, including, supposedly, humans. Anyway, as they were interviewing some human, a sign on one of the cages in the background read, "RAT HAS NO CONTROL." I have almost never stopped laughing about the beautiful truth of those four words of homemade bumper sticker. This is the answer to the majority of the world's questions. 

To be fair, there must have been another cage back there that had a sign reading, "RAT HAS CONTROL." This was the point of the experiment, to show that rats with some control (and predictability of circumstances, as I recall) were much more able to handle rat stress induced upon them by humans. Anyway, great show, and one I've remembered for a long time, eh? 

This site mentions the experiment (check out the base url!):


But this article is not really about that, but other rats with no control...or little...perhaps. So one rat sits at the bar drinking Mexican Coca-Cola made with cane sugar. The other sips on his USA HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) Coke. Which one will get fatter quicker? Well, we have no way of knowing right now, but I bet both were happy drinking Cokes, and according to a report from last year, it might well be the corn slurper that put on the extra weight. 

The article is here...


Looks like high fructose corn syrup mice gained more weight showed other ill effects of access to the high fructose corn syrup, relative to sugar mice. I've wondered about this topic, as it has often been mentioned, but seldom explained well. Still might not be right, but some of it makes sense, especially the "high fructose" relative to glucose part. Here are some quotations that grabbed my belly. 

Even though (because?) the sugar mix was stronger than the HFCS one,  

...rats given water sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup in addition to a standard diet of rat chow gained much more weight than male rats that received water sweetened with table sugar, or sucrose, in conjunction with the standard diet. 

Well did you have to use the word, balloon, in this paragraph? Really! 

...rats on a diet rich in high-fructose corn syrup showed characteristic signs of a dangerous condition known in humans as the metabolic syndrome, including abnormal weight gain, significant increases in circulating triglycerides and augmented fat deposition, especially visceral fat around the belly. Male rats in particular ballooned in size: Animals with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained 48 percent more weight than those eating a normal diet.

OK. I get some of this, correct/true or not. HF stands for high fructose in relation to the glucose. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-fructose_corn_syrup for more commentary and information on various kinds of HFCS.) 

First, sucrose is composed of equal amounts of the two simple sugars -- it is 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose -- but the typical high-fructose corn syrup used in this study features a slightly imbalanced ratio, containing 55 percent fructose and 42 percent glucose. Larger sugar molecules called higher saccharides make up the remaining 3 percent of the sweetener. 

So there's more fructose than glucose, plus some extra stuff hanging out, that makes HFCS different from cane or beet sugar. According to the article, the fructose in HFCS is different than the fructose in cane or beet sugar: 

Second, as a result of the manufacturing process for high-fructose corn syrup, the fructose molecules in the sweetener are free and unbound, ready for absorption and utilization. In contrast, every fructose molecule in sucrose that comes from cane sugar or beet sugar is bound to a corresponding glucose molecule and must go through an extra metabolic step before it can be utilized. 

Does this mean HFCS blends (Powerade liquid) are better than sucrose ones (Gatorade powder and maybe even the liquid) for acquiring the energy quickly DURING exercise, but sucrose-based mixes are better when not actually needing the calories immediately? Don't know. But this difference, they say, 

...may relate to the fact that excess fructose is being metabolized to produce fat, while glucose is largely being processed for energy or stored as a carbohydrate, called glycogen, in the liver and muscles. 

So it sounds like they may think the excess fructose is the biggest problem, and that glucose is the good stuff we need for glycogen for muscles. Hmm. Not sure I learned anything much, but it's a start at knowing there is some kind of difference between sugar-based and high fructose corn syrup-based foods and drinks. I have to say I'm going to try to eat less HFCS than sugar and hopefully less of both ("Good luck with that!" I hear Spongebob say), but I do recall days where that blue Powerade really hit the system just right while skating, ha. (I wrote that somewhere recently, maybe on a list and not here.)

In general, though, I think I'll try less HFCS than sugar for a while, and like I said, maybe a bit less of both. Just skipping the Coca-Cola at home and at restaurants helps (so I have one when I want one between meals when not at home). 

Skating more helps lots, and before and during I'm likely to be taking in some blue ade from powder. 


eebee's picture

Corn Syrup

Thanks for pulling some highlights from these studies, Roadskater, and posting them here. 

If you decide to cut out high fructose corn syrup, you've pretty much eliminated most of the rubbish in the 'middle' of the supermarket! Not a bad thing, at all. 

I caught another interesting documentary on public TV last weekend: Unnatural Causes - In Sickness and In Wealth. The entire transcript is here:


It explores the undeniable existence of a hierarchy in American health and life-expectancy, as it corresponds to economic status. There was a similar study carried out among UK civil servants in the 1970s. The findings were similar, despite the difference between the two countries' health care systems. Towards the end of the show, the depressed Macaques with No Control had cripplingly plaqued arteries (same diet), whereas the chief chest-beater's arteries were clean as a whistle. The program points the finger partially at the stress-hormone cortisol.

"This is a cross-section of the artery of a dominant monkey. The hole in the center is large and that
means that there’s lots of room for blood to flow through. This is the artery of a subordinate animal. So what’s happened here is that a subordinate monkey has developed a much larger atherosclerotic plaque than a dominant animal, who lived for the same amount of time, ate the same amount of diet and so on and so forth. And that is simply due to the stress of social subordination."

So no ballooning, but definitely some keeling-over. 

This has nothing to do with corn syrup vs sugar, sorry. But it has to do with control. 

I'm just making connections here with your article from yesterday, linking brain-workouts to better fitness, watching emotionally-neutral PBS documentaries before skating, and how to give Joe Bloggs a bit more control over his physical health, mental health and destiny. Perhaps giving up high fructose corn syrup would be a good place to start. 


eebee's picture

Syrup dressed up as Sugar

Corn Syrup is applying for a legal name change to Corn Sugar, but regular ol' Sugar isn't liking it, so they're battling it out. A judge is going to decide if Sugar's case has any merit, but it's a can of (sour gummy) worms, really:





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