New evidence on fructose in Coca Cola, Pepsi and other sodas in the US
Wednesday 4 June 2014 18.15 BST
A new analysis from the University of Southern California finds that sodas in the US are potentially a bigger risk for obesity than assumed, because of the high fructose levels they contain.
The battle over high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in sodas in the US is likely to intensify following the publication today of a new study from the Childhood Obesity Research Center at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California. A team led by Michael Goran, its director, has found that hugely popular soft drinks sweetened with HFCS, including Coca Cola, Pepsi, Dr Pepper, Mountain Dew and Sprite, contain more fructose than most people know.
Goran’s paper, published in the journal Nutrition, shows that the drinks – as sold on the streets – contain 50% more fructose than glucose. The ratio, it says, is 60:40 and not 50:50 as it is in regular sugar.
Why does this matter? Because, says Goran, other scientific studies have suggested that fructose is part of the cause – and if you read Robert Lustig’s book, Fat Chance; the bitter truth about sugar, you may think it is the main cause – of the obesity epidemic.
This is not the first time that Goran’s team has analysed the fructose levels in US sodas. They published an earlier paper in the journal Obesity in 2010, which was “completely trashed”, he said, by the corn refining industry, which makes HFCS. The Corn Refiners Association maintains that HFCS has essentially the same fructose/glucose proportions as sugar. It also says that fructose does not have a different effect on the body from glucose.
This time, Goran commissioned a more extensive analysis of 34 popular soft drinks, using three different techniques in three separate laboratories. The findings were essentially the same. On average, the sugar composition in the drinks was 60% fructose and 40% glucose.
Goran told me that this is cause for concern.
“Other studies have shown – and this is relatively new science that is emerging – that fructose is much more harmful than glucose. Glucose is used for energy in the body. Fructose is taken up much more readily by the liver, where it is used as fat. That conversion causes a lot of metabolic problems. We now know that fructose has more negative effects. The $6 billion a year corn refining industry repeats the mantra that sugar is sugar.”
Why did the corn refining industry not do its own studies to prove Goran wrong? Apparently they at least thought about it. Internal documents revealed during legal proceedings between the sugar industry and the corn refiners and published by the New York Times suggest re-running “the USC study”. This is from an internal memo on page 11:
“If the results contradict USC, we can publish them…
If for any reason the results confirm USC, we can just bury the data.”
Goran also takes issue with the labelling of sodas, which sometimes contain higher levels of fructose than specified. Sierra Mist, Gatorade and Mexican Coca-Cola had higher concentrations of fructose in the analyses than the labels suggested, which he says may mean they contain HFCS.
There are, of course, high fructose levels in fruit juices as well as sodas. We should eat fruit – not drink it, says Goran.