Do you remember when we were little, objecting to our parents saying, “Mom nobody does it like that anymore” or “Mom everyone does it like this, why can’t I?” Likewise do you remember that eating something in between meals is considered unhealthy or that all of these seem harmful in some way? How often do we use these generalizations? Here is how much this generalization and simplicity misleads us. Especially if these approaches are used in research as a methodology and scientific inferences direct our lives with the same understanding.
I recently came across an eyeopening article on LinkedIn that examines the effects of sugar on us in depth and from every angle. The author of the article Emeritus Prof. Dr. Fred Brouns reveals scientific facts by evaluating the subject from a perspective different than we are used to. However, we are accustomed to feeling guilty for the sugar we need in sufficient doses for our brain and body to function properly. Is this subject really that simple?
Prof. Dr. Fred Broun’s article amply answers my question. But first, to understand it thoroughly, let me remind you some technical information that my job has taught me, which will help us (1):
1. What we call a carbohydrate is a biomolecule consisting of carbon (C), hydrogen (H), and oxygen (O) atoms. Biomolecules are the basic building blocks in living things.
2. Carbohydrate is synonymous with saccharide containing sugar, starch, and cellulose.
3. Sugars are the building blocks of all carbohydrates. They are classified as monosaccharides, disaccharides, oligosaccharides, and polysaccharides.
4. Monosaccharides are single-unit sugars such as glucose, fructose, and galactose.
5. Disaccharides are a combination of two separate single-unit sugars; like table sugar (sucrose).
6. Polysaccharides are long chains of singlesugar molecules; like starches found in potatoes, onions, and carrots.
Three main factors determine the effects of saccharides on our metabolism and health.
First, saccharides can be classified according to their polymerization degree (DP). However, the molecular composition of saccharides with a similar DP may be different; this affects digestion, absorption, and metabolism.
The second factor is the physiological classification based on digestibility and rate and speed of absorption, glycemic response. The health status of individuals also plays a role in this context; the metabolic responses of an active, fit person and an overweight, as well as sedentary person with insulin resistance will be different. However, this approach alone is not the answer, because what else is eaten at the meal in which these carbohydrates are taken and their characteristics affect our body.
Third, carbohydrates can also be sorted by comparing functional/technological properties such as relative sweetness, viscosity, and solubility. If a scientific and realistic interpretation is to be made about the effect of sugars on our health, all these factors should be taken into account.
Measuring the effect of a single property of a particular sugar group and drawing conclusions almost always leads to false conclusions; accusations for fructose, for example, are the best example of this.
For example, different sugars may be similar in terms of their monomer composition (glucose, fructose, and galactose), but the bonds between these components may differ, differentiating their effect. Glucose and fructose are different when consumed alone, and when consumed together, they can have different effects on the digestive system. Even the same sugar being in a solid, liquid, or viscous state causes different physiological responses.
The potential of carbohydrates to raise blood sugar levels is often expressed as the glycemic index (GI) value. High GI causes blood sugar to rise rapidly and therefore low GI is considered better. For example, the GI of French bread was found to be 100, while that of French fries was 95, that of normal boiled pasta was 50, that of boiled potatoes was 53, bananas 48, fructose 15, sucrose 67, rice 59, white bread 70, and whole-grain rye bread 58. (2)
The glycemic index value alone does not fully explain the physiological effect of foods on health; the amount (dose) of GI consumed is important. In addition, the GI effect is affected by other factors affecting digestion and absorption in addition to the rate of consumption of food. For example, the amount and type of carbohydrates, the amount and characteristics of fat, protein, dietary fiber, processing levels, liquid or solid form.
The sugars you see on food labels usually mean monosaccharides and disaccharides. These are simple sugars that contain glucose and fructose together. But the metabolism of each of them is very different; they differ in their hormonal responses such as insulin secretion, their use as an energy source in the body, and their storage as glycogen or lipid.
The findings of Emeritus Prof. Dr. Fred Brouns’ latest research are crucial. Prof. Dr. Fred Brouns states: “For example, fructose is shown as the culprit of fatty liver. Glucose and fructose are often compared separately as monomers in metabolic studies, but in fact, we humans rarely consume fructose alone. Because high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) contains 55% fructose and other sugars. In HFCS-sweetened beverages, juices, and even fruits, fructose is not found alone but together with glucose and other sugars. Therefore, the data obtained from the research results of the experiments prepared by consuming high amounts of fructose, which is well above the general human consumption, do not reflect the normal human consumption in real life, it is exaggerated. There is no evidence that all of the fructose from sugary drinks and juices, as claimed, goes directly to the liver and converts to lipid (fat). In contrast, most fructose is converted into non-lipid substrates (decomposition materials) (2). Prof Dr. Fred Brouns says: “In the research setting, they only load people with high doses of fructose that are never consumed in daily life. Therefore, it is an urban legend that sugar is harmful to the liver.”
Prof. Dr. Fred Brouns adds, “The metabolism of isolated monosaccharides and disaccharides (glucose, fructose, and sucrose/table sugar) is basically similar to that found in natural sources containing mixtures of these sugars, such as fruits. It should also be remembered that whether the food is liquid or solid, it can play an important role in the rate of digestion and absorption. The effects of a sugar-added beverage will be different from the effects of other ingredients in the recipe for a sugary snack product; the drink causes a faster rise in blood sugar and insulin. “
In the meantime, it is useful to mention that the reason why research on fructose is constantly being conducted in the USA is that they use mostly HFCS sugar produced from corn because it is more economical. It is a sugar derived from corn, which is mostly used by a country that is dominant in scientific research such as the USA, and of course most of the research is about HFCS sugar. Perhaps this is the reason why other sugar types are not included in research more.
The reason why almost all of the sugar is obtained from corn in the USA is that corn cultivation is preferred by farmers due to its efficiency and cheap cost. While the vegetation period of corn (difference between emergence and harvest time) varies between 90-120 days, this period is 170-200 days for sugar beets. For a high yield, while corn has a water requirement of approximately 480 mm during the development period, the water consumption of sugar beet is approximately 900 mm. In addition, beet fields must be left fallow every few years (3).
The economic war is between US corn agriculture and Brazilian sugarcane production and Europe, regarding sugar beet agriculture. Lobbies are in a constant effort to influence governments. However, sugar always remains on the agenda during this discussion process and all candies, regardless of their type, assumed as a boogeyman.
As a result, tweezing a particular property of carbohydrates and looking at its effect almost always leads to the wrong conclusion, such as in the conclusion that fructose is harmful. Assessing a “holistic point of view” can only be done by reflecting on how fructose is used in real life. Unlike human consumption, in daily life, when taken in excessive and isolated levels, to stand up because it is harmful to health is demonizing a harmless and necessary building block for the body by science. Therefore, instead of inferences as a result of research and experimentation based on a single component, it is necessary to focus on the general effects, dose, interaction, and quality of carbohydrate sources and meals and to conduct multi-component research. Because real life has many components. Simplifying it in the lab doesn’t make real-life simple, but misguided research can make people’s lives difficult by showing the risks that are not available as important. Remember the early days of the Covid19 epidemic; Scientists were telling how long the virus remained on which surface. Therefore, housewives had to disinfect even the packaging of the items they bought. A year later, this information is no longer valid. I hope the number of scholars like Prof. Dr. Fred Brouns, who provide us with accurate information about the facts and necessities of life, increases.
Note: This article is open source and can be cited by mentioning the author. Does not require copyright.
(1) “Sugars: A Scientific Overview.” IFT.org, www.ift.org/career-development/learn-about-food-science/food-facts/food-facts-food-ingredients-and-additives/sugars-a-scientific-overview.
(2) Atkinson et al. (2008), International Tables of Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load Value, Diabetes Care, pgs.2281-2283; https://www.glycemicindex.com/foodSearch.php, University of Sidney online searchable data GI.
(3) Brouns F. (July 2020). Saccharide Characteristics and Their Potential Health Effects in Perspective, Frontier Nutrition, 7:75; https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnut.2020.00075/full
(4) Yildirim A. E (2018). Seker Ozellestirmesinde Pancar-Misir Kavgasi (Beet-Corn Fight in Sugar Privatization), Tarim Dunyasi (Agriculture World).