Pop doc Mehmet Oz hosts a weekday TV show that offers health tips to viewers. But on one of his recent topics, his prescription got a little, well, quacky. In a segment titled “10 Major Agers,” the doctor advised viewers to throw out anything with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in it. We’ve seen plenty of wicked mythmaking about HFCS before (and an apology from one scientist for creating false conventional wisdom), but this one is a real tornado of misinformation.
The doctor’s advice is so ludicrous that we’re going to take it piece-by-piece and drop a house on all the fiction. As “Dr. Oz” starts:
“High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a type of sugar …”
So far, so good.
“… that has been processed and combined with corn syrup to produce a cheap, easily dissolvable sweetener.”
Oops. Not necessarily. During the production process, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) can be blended with itself to produce different proportions of fructose and glucose. The most common formulas include 42 percent fructose and 55 percent fructose, compared to 50 percent for ordinary table sugar. The rest of corn sugar, just like the stuff in your sugar bowl, is glucose.
“But this sugar is quickly absorbed by the liver where it is converted into fat.”
It looks like Dr. Oz is confusing “high fructose corn syrup” with pure fructose. One study recently demonstrated that feeding people diets abnormally high in pure fructose—to the point of being unrealistic and unrepresentative of actual diets—can lead to higher triglyceride (fat) levels.
But calling HFCS “high” in fructose is wrong, unless a five-percent difference is worth getting all flustered about. And some high fructose corn syrup — the 42-percent variety — actually contains less fructose than table sugar.
“Since your brain doesn’t recognize HFCS as regular food, it never shuts off the appetite center — so you keep eating.”
Corn sugar can’t turn people into a food vacuum. For one thing, it’s processed by the body the same way as table sugar. And even people with a big sweet tooth don’t suffer from withdrawal if they stop eating sweets. Addiction is a behavior disorder with physical symptoms. Eating sugar doesn’t lead to “cookie monster syndrome.”
“Blood sugar levels rise, massive amounts of insulin is recruited to metabolize it and then you crash and feel hungry again.”
The “sugar crash” myth has been discredited. “There’s no evidence to support the idea that mid-afternoon tiredness is caused by hypoglycemia, or that healthy people feel normal fluctuations in blood sugar,” says Dr. Phillip Cryer of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
“Read the food labels of products in your pantry and refrigerator and throw out all products that contain HFCS.”
Actually, better advice might be to shut off the TV and read what medical professionals at the American Medical Association (AMA) say about corn sugar. The AMA has taken the position that HFCS functions identically to table sugar with regard to weight gain. Demonizing one sweetener is a product of scarecrow thinking.
With advice so poorly rooted in reality, Dr. Oz’s TV show might be more Potemkin Village than Emerald City. And the doctor might want to go catch up on his sweetener reading. We’re sure the munchkins can keep things running smoothly while he’s gone.