Foods that Affect Blood Pressure

Nearly everyone one know that salt and foods high in sodium can contribute to high blood pressure, a condition left untreated that increases your risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes. Those with hypertension and elevated blood pressure will often consume a low sodium diet which is certainly helpful.

However, two recent studies have now found evidence that Fructose, a form of sugar most commonly found in fruit, sweetened soft drinks, and junk food, can raise blood pressure in men.[i] Additionally, one study suggests that individuals who consume fructose sweetened soft drinks and junk food at night are more likely to gain weight faster than those who do not.[ii]

Fructose accounts for half of the sugar found in table sugar, and is used extensively in the form of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) in soft drinks and junk food. Most health practitioners, including many nutritionists, do not think of fructose as being any worse than any other forms of sugar and any claims to the contrary are overblown. Its natural form of sugar found in fruit. How can that be bad?

A multi-million dollar marketing campaign by the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) is largely responsible for this prevailing opinion – portraying high fructose corn syrup as a natural and harmless sweetener.

This is the farthest from the truth – fructose, especially high fructose corn syrup can have very detrimental effects on your health!

Fructose, as a sugar lacks enzymes, vitamins, and minerals – or anything needed by the body. In fact, it can leech micronutrients from your body. A growing body of evidence is creating a clear picture of just how bad it can be for your health.

Fructose and Fruit

Obviously fructose is found in fruit, however when we consider the contents of a piece of whole fruit, we find that there is a relatively small amount fructose in the fruit itself. So eating a small amount of fruit is certainly not a problem for most people – unless diabetes or obesity is an issue. We find that certain fruits – especially berries (blueberries, raspberries, and cranberries) are extremely healthy being full of powerful anti-oxidants and very little fructose.

It is possible too much fructose from fruit sources, especially if you consume fruit in the form of fruit juice. Why? Let us look to fiber for the answer. Whole and intact fruit contains fiber which moderates the release of fructose in the blood stream, and can to some extent moderate the release of insulin. Fruit juice on the other hand contains no fiber (unless blended whole in a blender and not juiced), but it does have approximately eight teaspoons of sugar per eight ounces of juice – that’s one teaspoon of sugar per ounce!! The fructose is rapidly metabolized in your body causing a massive blood sugar spike followed by a drop; it can cause obesity and a host of other problems.

Even Worse That Table Sugar?

Everyone knows table sugar is not healthy nor is sugar in general, but fructose is the worst of the bunch. All sugars can lead to health problems. Fructose can metabolize to your fat cells faster and since it is mostly consumed in a liquid form – fruit juice and especially soft drinks – there are even more harmful effects on your metabolism including diabetes, obesity[iii], metabolic syndrome, increases in triglycerides[iv] and cholesterol[v], and even liver disease.[vi] According to the research mentioned at the beginning of this article we can add high blood pressure to the list above!

The Story of High Fructose Corn Syrup

In the 1970s many manufactures made the switch from sucrose based sweeteners – sugar cane and sugar beets, to fructose extracted from corn, especially high fructose corn syrup. It has become very popular with the manufacturers of soft drinks and junk food because it is low cost, easy to use, and is actually sweeter than sucrose. From 1970 to 2005 the use of HFCS in soft drinks and many processed foods has grown a whopping 10,673%. Is it any wonder everyone is over weight?!?! Worse, HFCS actually contains twice as much fructose than the sucrose based sweeteners.

HFCS is the primary sweetener used in soft drinks, which plays a major role in the obesity epidemic in the United States, as recent research has revealed sodas and sweetened drinks to be the primary source of calories for Americans.[vii] Furthermore, nearly 9% of caloric intake comes from fructose alone – nearly 1 in 10 of your daily calories. Better yet imagine 1/10th of your plate at each meal containing a pile of sugar – not healthy!

The problems of High Fructose Corn Syrup aren’t just that it lack nutrients and is a source of endless calories, but that it can actually harm your liver and pancreas, leading to bone loss, anemia, heart problems, among many others.[viii] It has also been found to weaken the immune system. Furthermore, unbound fructose, such as found in HFCS can interfere with the minerals essential for the heart’s function including magnesium, copper, and chromium.

Solution: Avoid Fructose?

For most Americans, the primary source of fructose is from sodas, sweetened drinks, processed foods – naturally I encourage you to reduce or eliminate these and instead eat more fresh vegetables and clean, filtered water. However, fresh fruit is perfectly fine in moderation, provided you aren’t diabetic or obese.

Consider this: The average American drinks 60 gallons of soda every year, and one can of soda a day can add up to 15 pounds (mostly fat) per year!![ix] You can greatly reduce your fructose exposure by eliminating soda from your daily routine. Oh, on a side note, “diet soda” is not a solution – the artificial sweeteners used in these products are even worse that the HFCS fructose used in regular soda – see my article “The Diet Soda Deception” for more information.

Remember, eliminating soda, sweetened fruit drinks, and junk food from your diet can reduce your blood pressure and greatly improve your overall health.

[i] American Journal of Nephrology August 21, 2009; 30 (5): 399-404

[ii] Experimental Physiology June 1, 2009; 94: 648-658

[iii] American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 76, No. 5, 911-922, November 2002

[iv] American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, November 2000; 72: 1128-1134

[v] Journal of Nutrition, December 2000;130:3077-3084

[vi] American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases October 27, 2006

[vii] http://www.scienceblog.com/cms/node/8028

[viii] Scientific American November 1, 2006

[ix] American Journal of Clinical Nutrition August 2006; 84(2): 274-288