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Study Blames Corn Syrup for Rise of Diabetes

Corn syrup and other refined foods share much of the blame for the huge increase in type-2 diabetes in the United States over the past few decades.

A study of nearly 100 years of data on what Americans eat shows a huge increase in processed carbohydrates, especially corn syrup, and a large drop in the amount of fiber from whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

It parallels a jump in the number of cases of type-2 diabetes, caused by the body's inability to properly metabolize increasingly large amounts of sugars.

The study showed that the increase in calorie consumption in the past 20 years is almost exclusively carbohydrates, and corn syrup in particular. About 20% of our carbohydrates are coming from corn syrup. Corn syrup represents about 10% of the total calories we consume.

An estimated 16 million Americans have type-2 diabetes, the sixth leading cause of death. Many studies have linked a high intake of refined carbohydrates and other "high glycemic index" foods with the development of diabetes.

Foods with a high glycemic index cause a spike in insulin production. Many experts agree that, over time, repeatedly eating foods in this pattern can cause insulin resistance, which in turn leads to diabetes.

Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Centers for Disease Control showed that people have eaten about the same amount of carbohydrates a day on average - 500 grams - since 1909. But instead of whole grains and vegetables, people are getting more and more of those carbs in the form of processed grains and sugars -- most of all, in corn syrup.

Although the grams of carbohydrate were the same, the amount of calories in that carbohydrate has shot upwards. Beginning in 1980, people have steadily increased their calorie consumption, with an average increase in total calories of 500 calories a day. About 428 of those increased calories (nearly 80%) came from carbohydrates, according to the researchers.

During the same period, the prevalence of type-2 diabetes has increased by 47% and obesity increased by 80%, the researchers said.

Source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, April, 2004