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What You've Been Told About Sweets May Be Wrong

Many nutritionists claim that table sugar -- a molecule composed of one part fructose to one part glucose -- is no better than food-grade high fructose corn syrup.

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Some nutritionists have even argued that fructose should be regulated like a drug. Good luck with that. In 1986, around the time the beverage industry switched over to corn syrup, the FDA convened a task force to assess various sweeteners—including sugar and HFCS. It concluded that sugars "do not have a unique role in the etiology [origin] of obesity," and the issue of regulation hasn't come up since. (The report's lead author, Walter H. Glinsmann, is now a paid consultant for the Corn Refiners Association.)

Being against sweets "is like being against Christmas," Lustig concedes, but the Big Gulp portions and child-oriented marketing are bad news; Similac now sells a heavily sweetened infant formula, and a 2005 study linked obesity in Harlem toddlers to WIC-subsidized juice. A new study in the journal Obesity suggests that some beverage makers may even be using souped-up HFCS formulas. University of Southern California researchers analyzed sweet drinks from L.A. markets and fast-food joints, and found several (namely bottled Pepsi, Coke, and Sprite) with fructose-to-glucose ratios approaching 65/35—a result yet to be replicated widely.

Lustig recommends that the average adult consume no more than 50 grams of fructose per day—about five Mrs. Field's chocolate-chip cookies—and preferably not all at once. A 20-ounce soda containing 37.5 grams of fructose is "going to be a shock to the liver if you drink it all in one sitting," he says. Ideally, your fructose should come with plenty of fiber, which slows its entry into the bloodstream. One place where the two are ingeniously packaged together: an apple. Talk about a throwback.

Kiera Butler is an associate editor at Mother Jones. For more of her stories, click here .

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