Researchers have found new evidence that soft drinks sweetened
with high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) may contribute to the development
of diabetes, particularly in children. In a laboratory study
of commonly consumed carbonated beverages, the scientists found
that drinks containing the syrup had high levels of reactive
compounds that have been shown by others to have the potential
to trigger cell and tissue damage that could cause the disease,
which is at epidemic levels. They reported here today at the
234th national meeting of the American Chemical Society.
HFCS is a sweetener found in many foods and beverages, including
non-diet soda pop, baked goods, and condiments. It is has become
the sweetener of choice for many food manufacturers because
it is considered more economical, sweeter and more easy to blend
into beverages than table sugar. Some researchers have suggested
that high-fructose corn syrup may contribute to an increased
risk of diabetes as well as obesity, a claim which the food
industry disputes. Until now, little laboratory evidence has
been available on the topic.
In the current study, Chi-Tang Ho, Ph.D., conducted chemical
tests among 11 different carbonated soft drinks containing HFCS.
He found 'astonishingly high' levels of reactive carbonyls in
those beverages. These undesirable and highly-reactive compounds
associated with "unbound" fructose and glucose molecules are
believed to cause tissue damage, says Ho, a professor of food
science at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. By contrast,
reactive carbonyls are not present in table sugar, whose fructose
and glucose components are "bound" and chemically stable, the
Reactive carbonyls also are elevated in the blood of individuals
with diabetes and linked to the complications of that disease.
Based on the study data, Ho estimates that a single can of soda
contains about five times the concentration of reactive carbonyls
than the concentration found in the blood of an adult person
Ho and his associates also found that adding tea components
to drinks containing HFCS may help lower the levels of reactive
carbonyls. The scientists found that adding epigallocatechin
gallate (EGCG), a compound in tea, significantly reduced the
levels of reactive carbonyl species in a dose-dependent manner
when added to the carbonated soft drinks studied. In some cases,
the levels of reactive carbonyls were reduced by half, the researchers
"People consume too much high-fructose corn syrup in this
country," says Ho. "It's in way too many food and drink products
and there's growing evidence that it's bad for you." The tea-derived
supplement provides a promising way to counter its potentially
toxic effects, especially in children who consume a lot of carbonated
beverages, he says.
But eliminating or reducing consumption of HFCS is preferable,
the researchers note. They are currently exploring the chemical
mechanisms by which tea appears to neutralize the reactivity
of the syrup.
Ho's group is also probing the mechanisms by which carbonation
increases the amount of reactive carbonyls formed in sodas containing
HFCS. They note that non-carbonated fruit juices containing
HFCS have one-third the amount of reactive carbonyl species
found in carbonated sodas with HFCS, while non-carbonated tea
beverages containing high-fructose corn syrup, which already
contain EGCG, have only about one-sixth the levels of carbonyls
found in regular soda.
In the future, food and drink manufacturers could reduce concerns
about HFCS by adding more EGCG, using less HFCS, or replacing
the syrup with alternatives such as regular table sugar, Ho
and his associates say. Funding for this study was provided
by the Center for Advanced Food Technology of Rutgers University.
Other researchers involved in the study include Chih-Yu Lo,
Ph.D.; Shiming Li, Ph.D.; Di Tan, Ph.D.; and Yu Wang, a doctoral