Consumption of added sugar,
especially HFCS, is believed by many researchers and nutritionists to be one of
the potential causes for obesity. Others, however, think that it is unlikely
that one, single component of the human diet can be responsible for obesity.
Nevertheless, to reduce the burden of obesity and cardiovascular disease, the
American Heart Association (AHA) suggested the daily consumption of added
sugars should not exceed 150 calories in males and 100 calories in females.
HFCS and sucrose are similar as
far as short term energy regulating hormones or appetite is concerned. Sucrose
(commonly known as table sugar) is composed of equal proportion of fructose and
glucose. HFCS is used in two forms in the food industry - HFCS-55, used in
sweetened carbonated drinks with 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose;
and HFCS-42, used in baked goods and consisting of 42 percent fructose and 58
So, to delve further into the debate of sucrose vs. HFCS
and whether they lead to obesity, Joshua Lowndes and his colleagues from Rippe
Lifestyle Institute, Florida, USA and Rhode Island University, USA, examined
the effects of four equally hypocaloric diets (diets providing fewer calories
than average diets) containing different levels of sucrose and HFCS. They also
compared changes in weight and body composition, along with the risk factors
for coronary heart disease, type-2 diabetes and the metabolic syndrome in
overweight and obese individuals.
Their 12-week randomized trial included 247 overweight
/obese subjects between the ages of 25-60, but only 162 participants completed
The participants were divided into five groups -
• Grp1 - (HFCS 10%): sweetener at 10 percent of total
calories provided from High Fructose Corn Syrup, plus exercise.
• Grp2 - (HFCS 20%): HFCS at 20 percent of total calories,
• Grp3 - (Sucrose 10%): 10 percent of total calories
provided from sucrose, plus exercise.
• Grp4 - (Sucrose 20%): sucrose at 20 percent of total
calories, plus exercise.
• Grp5 - (Control group): habitual diet, plus exercise.
The hypocaloric diet groups (1 to 4) were given diets
consisting of their regular calorie intake minus 500 cal. The meal plan for Grp
1 to 4 consisted of 50-55 percent of carbohydrates, 15-20 percent of protein,
and 25-30 percent fat. They were also given low fat (1%) milk, sweetened by
either sucrose or HFCS to deliver 10 or 20 percent of calories from the
sweetener according to their group.
Participants had to exercise
daily and the duration of exercise increased progressively from 15 minutes
thrice a week to 45 minutes three days a week at 60 to 80 percent of their
maximal aerobic power.
The results revealed that -
• HFCS-10% group
showed the greatest change as compared to the control group. 'Reductions
were observed in all measures of adiposity including body mass, BMI, percentage
body fat, waist circumference and fat mass for all four hypocaloric groups, as
well as reductions in the exercise only group for body mass, BMI and waist
circumference', said the researchers. However, there were no significant
differences among the four hypocaloric groups.
• HFCS and sucrose at 10 or 20 percent levels of total
energy intake do not prevent weight loss
and associated improvements in body composition when a supervised weight
loss program is followed.
• Fifty percent
increase in vitamin D occurred as a result of sweetened milk consumption.
As is known, deficiencies in vitamin D are associated with impaired glucose
tolerance, the metabolic syndrome and diabetes independent of obesity. Vitamin
D is also essential for the metabolism of insulin and may contribute to
reduction in the CRP (C-reactive protein) levels. Vitamin D may
also contribute to LDL reduction.
• There is no difference between HFCS or sucrose in any
metabolic parameter including glucose, insulin, leptin, ghrelin, triglycerides,
uric acid, and appetite levels. When consumed at levels up to 20 percent of total energy intake for fructose in a hypocaloric
diet, neither HFCS nor sucrose impedes weight loss.
The researchers concluded that equally hypocaloric diets
provoked similar weight changes regardless of the type or amount of sugar
consumed since both are metabolically equivalent. 'Our data suggest that such
actions are pointless and potentially misleading to consumers, since HFCS and
sucrose are nutritionally interchangeable' they said.
They, however, felt that larger
and longer duration studies were required from more diverse population groups
using higher doses (approximately 15% of calories as fructose) of either
sucrose or HFCS.
Lowndes, J., et al. The effects of four hypocaloric
diets containing different levels of sucrose or high fructose corn syrup on
weight loss and related parameters. Nutrition Journal 2012, 11:55