Fructose, bad in rats

By Razib Khan | March 23, 2010 7:45 pm

You’ve probably heard about the research in the press, but please see Derek Lowe for perspective. The difference between high fructose corn syrup and sugar as an additive may, or may not, be problematic. But the uncertainty in this area is why I try and avoid excessively processed foods*, there’s just so much we don’t know. If you’re poor and short on cash perhaps the high ratio of calories per cent of processed foods are simply necessary, but for people of even modest means I don’t think it is that difficult to cut most consumables which come out of boxes from your diet.
Again, I want to reiterate that I don’t necessarily have an atavistic fear of food science and industry. Or think that “nature always knows right.” The human state of nature is Malthusian and characterized by high mortality. But I think some trends in the modern food industry driven by demand side pressures result in medium-to-long term gains in morbidity in return for short-term spikes in pleasure.
* If something has fewer than six ingredients, and you know what the ingredients are (i.e., they’re not obscure chemicals), I don’t know if I would avoid that. After all, cooking is in many ways a form of processing too. As are cheeses and pickling.

  • Liz Ditz

    The HFCS was a big topic of conversation in the family recently. The pregnant daughter-in-law was a bit…dogmatic about avoiding it, up to and including banning condiments such as ketchup (almost all brands have HFCS).
    And the once-a-month (or so) stop at Dairy Queen for soft-serve (seems to be loaded with HFCS)? Banned. Even if the tricycle motors were eating less than a small serving.
    Hmmn. See I have some “the dose makes the poison” teaching to do.

  • Jake

    I’m sorry, but you want to believe that just because that bad food is inexpensive that families have to eat it? That is so far from the truth. A family can eat just as good healthy as they can eating junk. Oh and did you see the Princeton Study released yesterday? It proves that High Fructose Corn Syrup leads to obesiety.

  • razib

    you’re a dumbass who doesn’t follow links. that’s the study derek lowe was commenting on dipshit.

  • bioIgnoramus

    The fructose:glucose ratio in HFCS is close enough to that in sucrose that it’d be surprising to me if it were much more dangerous than sucrose. But sometimes surprising stuff happens. Personally, I’d be inclined to look carefully at any trace substances that might differ between HFCS and ordinary commmercial sucrose. Be that as it may, some of the popular objections to HFCS are just folk religion superstitions: “It’s manufactured therefore it’s deadly”.

  • razib

    bio, yes. that’s why i think it best not to focus on “demonic foods” (which might turn out NOT to be demonic) and use a few broad common sense heuristics. btw, re: processed food, one reason i don’t eat much of it is that back in college i got out of habit. one of my roommates was a moocher who would always eat chips or cereal; anything that didn’t require cooking. he’d eat anything i bought of that form. so i bought unprocessed stuff which required preparation and/or cooking…and bam, my food was safe. i still enjoy chips when offered at parties and such, but i’ve gotten into the habit of just not buying stuff like that.

  • bioIgnoramus

    A few months ago I took to reading the contents lists on boxes of breakfast cereals. Now I mix my own muesli. (I’m allowed to eat muesli – I’ve got a beard and I wear sandals.)

  • windy

    Something’s weird about that study… looks like the only comparison which shows HFCS as ‘worse’ than sucrose at the same level of access was at 8 weeks in male rats. But the rats on 24-h access gained less weight than the 12-h ones (both groups supposedly ate about as much HFCS):
    1. 24-h HFCS + ad libitum chow 470 ± 7
    2. 12-h HFCS + ad libitum chow 502 ± 11*
    3. 12-h sucrose + ad libitum chow 477 ± 9
    4. Ad libitum chow 462 ± 12

  • Marc

    Food science and industry have little to do with the choice of corn syrup over sugar. Government heavily subsidizes corn and protects the domestic sugar market (tariffs) that result in higher prices.

  • 6EQUJ5

    HFCS is a mixture of fructose and glucose. These monosaccharides, which we do not digest: monosaccharides are absorbed directly into the bloodstream, without delay.
    Sucrose is a disaccharide. It requires an enzyme to break it into fructose and glucose, and thus it will take time for it to be digested and absorbed.
    There is nothing inherently wrong with fructose and glucose. These monosaccharides are available in fruits and vegetables, but of course in whole foods it takes the stomach and small intestine to take these foods apart into their constituents. What is a really bad idea is taking monosaccharides in pure form and ingesting large doses. We are not hummingbirds: we did not evolve with a diet of simple sugars.

  • Kaviani

    The advice I follow (which is rapidly going obsolete) is that if your grandparents didn’t know what it was/didn’t consider it food, you probably shouldn’t eat it. Not that they made the best diet choices, but you can cut out a LOT of overprocessed food that way.
    (This also doesn’t account for cross-cultural wholesomeness, but you can work around that.)

  • Christopher Mims

    I wouldn’t be so sure that the current state of our food system is a consequence of forces on the demand side. I recommend Food, Inc. or King Corn — both illustrate that the reason we have so much of certain kinds of processed food on the shelves is that we massively subsidize production of corn and soybeans. Then there’s the fact that both are quite compatible with mechanized farming. But perhaps that was not inevitable in the first place.

  • Razib Khan

    both demand and supply may be sufficient. i suspect there’s also positive feedback loops here.

  • Terrence Walker

    I don’t know what it’s like where you live, but the idea that the poor should subsist on processed foods because it is cheaper is alien to me. With the exception of ramen noodles, processed foods are expensive. You can live on all natural beans, rice, eggs and onions for next to nothing if you’re poor. Why eat processed foods in expensive colorful boxes?


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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