Thu | Feb 25, 2021

Dr Alfred Dawes | What sweet you?

Published:Tuesday | June 19, 2018 | 12:00 AM
White sugar

I am still yet to get over the shocking revelation that Sammy did not plant piece a corn down a gully but had in fact planted peas and corn. One wonders what other lies I was told in my childhood and why the need to focus on the corn.

I suspect that we would have had less obesity and diabetes around if we paid more attention to peas than consuming corn, or specifically, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

HFCS has recently been spotlighted as one of the main causes of excess calories in our diet. The emphasis health authorities have recently placed on sugar has caused us to envision manufacturers adding spoonfuls of the crystal into their drinks and processed foods. However, most manufacturers use HFCS as a sweetener instead of table sugar because of the lower cost and the fact that it is sweeter than sugar.




HFCS is made from corn starch. Starch is made up of one of the simplest forms of sugar, glucose, joined together like links in a chain. When this chain is broken up, the individual links in the resulting liquid form corn syrup. Another of the simplest form of sugar that is slightly different from glucose is found naturally in fruits, hence the name given to it - fructose.

Table sugar is made of fructose and glucose joined together to make a two-link chain. To make HFCS, chemicals are added to corn syrup that convert some of the glucose to fructose. Thus, the amount of fructose can be adjusted rather than just the 50:50 ratio of glucose and fructose found in table sugar. Other natural sweeteners, for example, honey and fruit nectar such as agave, contain varying ratios of fructose and glucose.




HFCS can be found in sodas, juices, candy, sauces, processed foods, pastry, and even cough syrup. Even foods marketed as healthy such as granola bars, yogurt, low-fat salad dressings, canned fruit, breakfast cereals, energy bars, and sports drinks contain HFCS.

The rise in the obesity epidemic in the 1970s has paralleled the rise in the use of HFCS in manufacturing. The fact that a significant percentage of the HFCS that we consume daily is hidden makes it a significant contributor to weight gain.

Persons who are "eating healthy" often on closer examination, will find that they are consuming a large quantity of hidden sugar in the form of HFCS.

Some experts solely attribute the obesity crises on the consumption of HFCS because of how fructose is broken down in the body, and because it is associated with fatty liver disease. But no study in humans has shown definitively that HFCS is dangerous. The simple problem is that we eat too much.

The modern American consumes about 150 pounds of sugar per year or approximately 550 calories per day from sugar alone. In the 1700s, the average European, who were the biggest consumers of sugar at the time, had about four pounds per annum. The rest of the world consumed far less added sugar, even the Indians who invented it and the Arabs who brought it to Europe. Sugar was a luxury item up until then, but rapidly became commercialised and cheaper as the slave trade blossomed.




Added sugar is believed to be one of the main causes of obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. In fact, the anti-sugar lobby parallel their efforts with those who tried to reduce tobacco use in order to decrease the incidence of lung cancer. Not only does excess sugar cause weight gain, but it promotes inflammation in the body.

Because sugar has so many negative effects, some persons have attributed other conditions to excess sugar consumption. For example, some believe that if you have cancer and cut out sugar out of the diet, it will stop the cancer cells from growing, since sugar is their primary source of energy.

However, our body naturally produces sugar from proteins and fat, so whether or not we consume sugar, there will still be a baseline amount of sugar in our bloodstream. This is so because some organs such as the brain require sugar as their primary source of energy.

Our body only needs about one to two teaspoons of sugar in the blood stream at any point in time. However, we consume significantly more than what we need per day.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that we consume no more than 25 mg of sugar per day. A can of soda or juice may contain 35g of sugar. Any sugar above what is needed spikes the blood sugar levels, triggering the release of insulin from the pancreas.

Insulin works by moving sugar into muscle, liver, and fat cells. In fat cells, the sugar is converted to and stored as fat, leading to weight gain. As this process is repeated over time, you may end up with insulin resistance and later diabetes.

Fructose does not spike blood sugar levels as rapidly as table sugar. This has been used as a marketing ploy by some fructose sweetener manufacturers to say their product is healthy. However, the insulin spikes and fatty liver are not the problem. The calories are.

We are simply consuming more calories than we are burning and it makes us overweight, then obese, where if our weight is high enough, our bodies render it nearly impossible to lose the weight because of hormonal and metabolic changes.

Is sugar a significant source of calories in your diet? If so, where are you getting this sugar from? Is it your healthy food?

- Dr Alfred Dawes is a general laparoscopic and weight loss surgeon at the Island Laparoscopy and Medical Care. Email:;