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High-Fructose Corn Syrup continued...

But there are also potential problems. Some researchers fear that the body is confused by high-fructose corn syrup, treats it more like fat than sugar, and causes us to eat more and store more fat. A study in the July 2005 issue of Obesity Research suggested that fructose affects our metabolic rate, which in turn increases fat storage.

While there's no denying that consumption of high-fructose corn syrup has mirrored the increase in obesity in the United States, weight gain is not that simple. Gaining weight is highly individualized, involves genetics and inactivity, and it's not likely to be a result of a single food ingredient. In fact, obesity rates are rising across the globe, even in places where high-fructose corn syrup is used very little or not at all.

If we wanted to blame a single ingredient, fat might be a more likely culprit. That's because ounce for ounce, it has more than twice the calories of sugar. Other factors in obesity no doubt include super-sized meals and the consumption of fewer fruits and vegetables.

The Problem With Sweeteners

The main problem with sugar and other sweeteners is that they provide little more than calories and can displace other foods that contain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that fight disease.

The World Health Organization recommends limiting added sugars to less than 10% of total calorie intake. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2005 Dietary Guidelines put sugars into the "discretionary calorie" group -- those relatively few calories you have left over after you've eaten all the recommended foods.

The Sugar Association wants the Food and Drug Administration to require more stringent labeling of sugars and artificial sweeteners, similar to the required labeling for trans fats that takes effect in January 2006. The industry group believes that if consumers become more aware of the type of sweeteners used in their foods, they may choose to enjoy more simple table sugar at just 15 calories per teaspoon.

Recent data show that Americans are steering away from table sugar. USDA figures show that consumption of sucrose has gone down by 40% over the past 30 years, from 95.7 pounds per person in 1974 to 61.9 pounds in 2005. At the same time, use of artificial sweeteners as well as high-fructose corn syrup has been on the rise.

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