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Study Blames Corn Syrup for Rise of Diabetes

Corn syrup and other refined foods may be partly responsible for the huge increase in type 2 diabetes in the U.S. over the past few decades.

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

Starting in 1980, people started consuming steadily more calories, with an average increase in total calories of about 500 calories a day. Nearly 80% of the increase in total calories came from carbohydrates. During the same period, the prevalence of diabetes increased by 47% and obesity increased by 85%.

But instead of vegetables, fruits and whole grains, people are getting more and more of their carbs in the form of processed grains and sugars - most of all, in corn syrup.

The lead researcher of the study said "It is hard to ignore the fact that 20% of our carbohydrates are coming from corn syrup - 10% of our total calories."

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

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

Bottom line: Eat more fresh vegetables and fruits. Replace refined grains with whole grains. Reduce consumption of soft drinks and other beverages containing corn syrup or other sweeteners. Minimize processed convenience foods that contain "high fructose corn syrup".

Source: Gross, LS et al, Increased consumption of refined carbohydrates and the epidemic of type 2 diabetes in the United States: an ecologic assessment. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 May;79(5):774-9.