Posted by: Chris Maloney | March 7, 2014

Which Is Worse: High Fructose Corn Syrup Or Table Sugar? And Does Gluten Matter?

A wise commenter asked me about the difference between sucrose and high fructose corn syrup.  Which is worse for the body?

In order to know the difference, someone has to do an experiment on healthy people, loading them up with one or the other.  These experiments are not without problems.  In the experiment I found, seven of forty-seven subjects had to drop out because of reactive hypoglycemia (their blood sugars dropped dangerously low) after the intake of sugars.  That’s a dangerous side effect rate of almost 15% and should make you wonder about the state of drivers who have just had a high sugar drink for breakfast.

And yes, the study used standard soda pop, compared to a special soda pop they got from the manufacturer sweetened with table sugar.

The results?  High fructose corn syrup is not the same as table sugar.  The insulin response is higher, the reaction across body functions is higher.  The side effect picture is worse.  To read the entire study and look at the nice charts, go here.

The next part of the commenter’s question was whether gluten makes any difference.

To find out whether gluten plays a part in the body’s reaction to sugar, we’d have to do sugar study and add gluten in. Unfortunately, no one is doing that, because gluten is most often thought of as an allergen.

Gluten sensitivity has become a strange new world, with the new diagnosis of non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) making the rounds.  Basically, even if your celiac test came back negative, gluten could still be a problem.  (Study here)

In mice, just eating gluten can lead to insulin increases. (study here)

In a type 1 diabetic boy, a gluten free diet led to resolution of symptoms.  (report here)

But in individuals without a response to gluten (which may be far fewer of us than we’d like), there doesn’t seem to be much difference.  Gluten can react more like a protein and slow sugar absorption, so a comparison of sugars between gluten and gluten-free foods doesn’t show that much benefit to gluten-free.

Here’s the abstract:

Eur J Nutr. 2004 Aug;43(4):198-204. Epub 2004 Jan 6.

In vitro starch digestibility and in vivo glucose response of gluten-free foods and their gluten counterparts.



Recently there has been increasing interest in the production of gluten-free (GF) foods and studies on minor cereals and pseudocereals without celiac activity in order to fulfill the specific needs of people affected by celiac disease. GF bread, pasta, biscuits are usually manufactured using different combinations of thickenings and particular food processing procedures that could affect starch digestibility. Carbohydrates, mainly starch from cereals, play an important part in a balanced diet, and dietary guidelines suggest a diet with low glycemic index foods, that is to say rich in slowly digested carbohydrates.


The present study was aimed at evaluating: 1) the importance of some GF food characteristics in relation to their effects on in vitro starch accessibility to digestion, in comparison with traditional gluten products; 2) the in vivo metabolic responses to GF foods.


Firstly, starch digestibility of several products was evaluated in vitro. Then, an in vivo study was performed on a group of healthy volunteers. Postprandial glucose and insulin responses were evaluated after administration of three GF foods and traditional bread. Triglycerides and free fatty acids (FFA) were also evaluated. Attempts were also made to explore differences in metabolic responses to GF foods in healthy subjects with respect to celiac subjects.


The area under the curve (AUC) of digested starch of GF bread was slightly higher than that of the traditional counterpart. No significant difference was observed in AUCs of digested starch between GF pasta and the traditional pasta. The AUCs of digested starch of quinoa and the two samples of pasta were not statistically different. Significant differences were observed between GF bread and bread-like products. Statistic differences in glucose responses to GF pasta were observed between healthy and celiac subjects. In healthy subjects, the AUCs of glucose response after GF bread were higher than those after bread with gluten. No significant differences were observed between the AUCs of insulin responses to all products tested. Glycemic index (GI) for GF pasta was similar to GI for GF bread while GI for quinoa was slightly lower than that of GF pasta and bread. Two-way ANOVA revealed that quinoa induced lower FFA levels with respect to GF pasta. In addition, triglyceride concentrations were significantly reduced for quinoa with respect to GF bread and bread.


Our results indicate that the different formulations and the food processing procedures used in the manufacturing of GF products may affect the rate of starch digestion both in vitro and in vivo. It may be worthwhile improving the formulation of these products. Furthermore, quinoa seems to represent a potential alternative to traditional foods, even if further and larger studies are required to demonstrate its hypoglycemic effects.

PMID: 15309439




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