Sugar Shock

Giant food processors might want to investigate what’s going on with mice. And very soon, before the whiskered gray subversives do any more damage.

In recent studies, mice have reacted poorly to GMO corn and fatty diets. Now test mice fed sugar in amounts that may be normal for an average North American became, essentially, feckless weasels who don’t live very long. Might this be happening among the human population?

Step forward briskly, North American consumer.

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Mary MacVean reports that the test mice were at first quite happy to be consuming such a modern diet. Yet the promise of daily sweets was ultimately bad news for female mice hoping to retire outside the laboratory, or males deeply involved in corporate office politics:

“When mice were fed a diet that was 25% added sugars — an amount consumed by many humans — the females died at twice the normal rate and the males were less likely to reproduce and hold territory. . . .

“The scientists fed the mice a diet that got its added sugars from half fructose and half glucose monosaccharides, which is about what’s found in high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), [senior author University of Utah biology professor Wayne] Potts said.”

The study, published earlier this week in the journal Natural Communications, is clear on the context of its findings, and the wider implications:

“The Utah researchers noted that consumption of added sugars increased in the American diet by 50% from the 1970s to about 2008, primarily because of the higher consumption of HFCS. (The intake has since been declining, and the Sugar Assn. said consumption of sucrose has decreased by 35% in the last four decades.)

“The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise us to limit our total intake of added sugars, fats and other ‘discretionary calories’ to 5% to 15% of total calories consumed every day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that from 2005 to 2010, we got 13% of our total calories from added sugar.

“The male mice controlled 26% fewer territories and produced 25% fewer offspring, the scientists said. The lower reproduction levels could be the result of a decreased ability to defend their territories, the researchers said. The diet did not affect weight.”

In light of the data, one industry trade group spoke up, purporting to represent rodents. The Corn Refiners Association suggested that a natural predilection for sugar-free diets was the real defect of the lab mice. Marketing and processing might someday change that:

“‘Mice do not eat sugar as a part of their normal diet, so the authors are measuring a contrived overload effect that might not be present had the rodents adapted to sugar intake over time,’ the group said.”

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