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Researchers are now developing new forms of real sugar (newyorker.com)
38 points by jorgesborges 20 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 50 comments



The mirror molecule of glucose tastes the same but has no caloric value because our bodies chemistry is depended on the handedness of a molecule. It is however very expensive to make because all of nature prefers the same handedness. No natural sources exist, because is is useless from an evolutionary point of view. It is however possible that extra-terrestrial-life uses the opposite handedness, so they send a bunch of very expensive sugar to mars to test if there is life there.


I wonder if this would still trigger an insulin spike. It's been hypothesized that an insulin spike after consuming artificial sweeteners is at least part of why those who switch to them often don't lose the weight they expected (this process is verified in vitro and in rats, but not in humans to my knowledge).

If an insulin spike still happens, it will cause a "sugar crash", which will typically drive extra consumption even if the original source was calorie free.


However, turns out L-glucose is a laxative. If our enzymes can't bind to it, what is causing this physiological response?


Reddit agrees with my first instinct that it probably draws water into your gut via osmosis.

https://www.reddit.com/r/todayilearned/comments/2347u0/til_t...


The other reason is that often the bacteria in your gut can metabolize sugars that our own enzymes can't. They basically go nuts with a huge food source. You get gas and diarrhea because of their waste products.


You're being downvoted because EVERY form of life on earth discovered so far metabolizes

D-Glucose. If you find a microbe with the ability to metabolize

L-Glucose it'll be big news, and most likely an alien.


Not quite.

"An L-glucose catabolic pathway in Paracoccus species 43P" https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23038265/

But it's true the vast vast majority of life on earth cannot metabolize L-glucose and it would be unlikely to have bacteria in your gut capable of metabolizing it.


The sugar is not digested so it remains in the gut. Then the sugar, because of osmosis, draws water in from the surrounding tissue.

This extra water then causes the laxative effect.


and then you lose weight (water weight)


It is weird to imagine that the evolution is to eat a laxative cake in place of taking care of sugar addiction.

"Hey! This version of cocaine makes you still feel hungry!"


It's straightforward to convert sugar to "invert sugar", with both isomers. So you can get down to 50% calories. Left-handed sugar still seems to be hard to isolate, though. Merck sells it for about US$108/gram.[1] Too much even for expensive restaurants.

However, there's a new synthesis method available. Could have startup potential.[2]

[1] https://www.sigmaaldrich.com/catalog/product/sigma/g5500?lan...

[2] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/237860195_L-Glucose...


That's not what invert sugar is.


Interesting video from Steve Mould covering this topic:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=975r9a7FMqc


Totally off topic, but why is it L and D instead of L and R or S and D?



Science seems to have gone with "levo-" prefixes rather than "sinistro-", though "sinistrorotary" does see occasional usage[1].

[1] https://www.google.com/search?q=sinistrorotatory&sxsrf=ALeKk...


Creating problems instead of solutions. The answer is to STOP putting sugar into everything so that people learn what sweet tastes like. Fast so that you know what hunger feels like, and so when you eat enough calories stop eating! instead of continuing to stuff yourself with low-calorie garbage.


This is identical reasoning to social conservatives who would say that the solution to STDs and unplanned pregnancies is to stop having non-procreative sex, rather than wasting effort on vaccines and contraceptives that will never be 100% effective.


Yeah, I think it's time we recognize that many (most?) humans simply lack the willpower to resist overconsumption, particularly when it comes to sweet/fried foods. I would struggle to find a single country where rising wealth/living standards didn't correlate with a rise in obesity.

"Stop stuffing your face" will, causally, prevent obesity. "Stop having sex" and "don't take drugs" will, causally, prevent unplanned pregnancies and drug addictions, too. But thousands of years of human behaviour show that these are not effective policies because humans will never follow them. Thinking otherwise is simply delusional.

The sugar debate is really fascinating, too, because it's a clash of two diametrically opposed philosophies.

On the one hand, it's something demonstrably "bad" that humans (on average) demonstrably cannot control themselves from consuming.

On the other, it's something that a lot of people find really enjoyable. Who are we to dictate the life priorities of our neighbours? Just because I think living like a monk is worth an extra decade of life doesn't mean someone else does.

I'm gradually settling on the view that these substances should be sufficiently taxed to pay for the associated healthcare costs, but no more. Personally, I feel that those taxes should also subsidise healthier foods (at least for low-income individuals families), but that may be a harder sell.


> Who are we to dictate the life priorities of our neighbours?

When my tax dollars go towards a health care system that pays for some medication, medical consultations, and surgeries, I think it's fair to say the choice of what one eats affects everyone. It's one thing to get an unforeseeable disease, it's another to live a particular lifecycle that we know is conducive to long term health problems.

As you touched upon in your closing paragraph, I would prefer taxing these items or subsidizing healthier options.


Being healthy is soo much more expensive.

If you're really healthy you live to 95 after retiring at 65, taking out social security and medicare for 30 years. And spending the last 10 with alzheimer's basically in full time care.

If you eat like shit you have a heart attack at 57 and die before taking a dime out of medicare or social security.


That's probably the single best argument against universal health care.


Elaborate? I'm not sure what your point is.


If we think it odious to control all personal choices that result in long term health effects, then we either have to agree as a society to pay for other people's bad choices or not have universal health care.


You only have to look at places with universal health care to see if they have issues with "Moral Hazard".

Do people in the UK, Aus, Canada, France etc engage in more unhealthy activities because they have access to good healthcare? And I would say the observed answer is no, the population doesn't engage in more risky behaviour.

And you pay for healthcare anyway to cover emergency rooms that have to serve everyone so hospitals don't all go bankrupt. And then that cost gets put back on the insured... who have their employer pick a plan for them... who then have insurance middle men nickle and dime doctors to give imperfect, but cheap treatments. Or doctors just try to do lots of tests/imaging because they know the insurance will cover it.

Not having universal healthcare is truly the worst of all worlds. There's no benefit to it unless you are an investor, in the insurance industry or are rich enough to not care about the public at large.


I'm not saying universal health care causes bad behavior, I'm saying it causes taxpayers to think they have a right to make these bad behaviors illegal.


Which bad behaviors have been made illegal?


I don't think the two are mutually exclusive. There's nothing preventing a universal healthcare system, partially funded by higher taxes on "unhealthier" behaviours that cause a disproportionate burden on the system.

Obviously there will always be some proportion of people who draw from the system without ever paying anything in taxes (i.e. long-term unemployed). That's the case with any form of welfare, though. If you're philosophically opposed to non-net-taxpayers deriving any form of government benefit, then I'm assuming you're a priori opposed to universal healthcare.


" I would struggle to find a single country where rising wealth/living standards didn't correlate with a rise in obesity."

Even if there is a correlation it doesn't mean it's out of hand.

Japan has very low rates esp. compared to the other nations around it's 'obesity rankings' [1]

We don't need that much sugar.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_obesity_r...


I was thinking it's more like pollution by oil companies. Profit from subsidized sugar, externalize the costs. We also put warning labels on cigarettes and make them inaccessible to minors. Classify sugary "bread" as dessert cake instead.

Additionally it's cultural: not all western countries have such rampant obesity. Smoking is no longer cool, and so on.


The subjugation of our our carnal impulses to our 'higher will' is the issue, and it's a foundational measure of maturity and our ability to act responsibly, and to get along with one another towards forming intelligent social systems.

As our 'cup runneth over' with every material thing that suits our fancy (sugar, information, 'cheap stuff', addictive substances (like oxycontin, fentanyl), even porn) we have no choice but to try to have more self control.

Randy Marsh I think said it best [1] "We must only use the internet only for what is necessary, no browsing while watching TV ... and for porn twice a day, max".

The 'Big 5' trait closely associated with this is 'Conscientiousness' and it's the trait mostly clearly correlated with positive life outcomes of every kind: better performance in the workplace, lower rates of incarceration, more wealth, happiness etc. etc..

But if we can find a non-toxic substance to 'help out' wit this then that's good too - though I always wonder about the viability of eating non-natural chemicals. It seems both Sucralose, Aspartame are not without controversy.

So kudos on these researchers, but it may be a long time before we can fathom how safe it is.

[1] http://www.comedycentral.com.au/south-park/videos/the-best-o...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conscientiousness


I think that the difference here is that you'd have to convince hundreds of millions or billions of people to stop having premarital sex, whereas with sugary food the majority is coming from a much smaller group of processed food manufacturers which are relatively easy to target.


This transition to keto to become more metabolic flexible then try fasting and the planet by consuming one day not food in a week.


I always wonder about this. Why do we choose to solve a problem with another. Something about individual freedom or something?


Stop putting carbon dioxide in our environment instead we are developing technologies to capture it.

Although, I think in this case it is required because it's high time.


Dependency and addiction nurture recurring revenue. Fasting doesn't.


Sugar has a lot of important properties in many food products beyond making it sweet. It’s important in the browning, bulking, and springiness of a lot of foods. People who simply say don’t eat sugar dont seem to understand you need to replace it with something. Using a rare sugar fiber or some other kind of carbohydrate is a good place to start.

Disclosure: we’re an investor in Stem Sugar (YC-18)


I think people that say "don't eat sugar" don't eat sugar. They don't eat the things that require it.


The mallard reaction does not rely on sucrose alone.


We already have something similar - sucralose. You basically substitute 3 of the hydroxyl groups with chlorine atoms. Human and bacterial enzymes (at least the ones in the gut) can't digest it. It's basically excreted unchanged.


Question: Say we can produce large quantities of L-glucose. How hard would it be for organisms to evolve to metabolize it? Would it be like evolving resistance to extreme heat (hard) or more like antibiotic resistance (not hard)?


This is going to be a disaster. They mix hexane in cooking oils. So many people have to get some form of heart surgery in their 50s because of this. Stay away


There's growing evidence that excess sugar consumption is at the root of many metabolic diseases including heart disease. It certainly doesn't hurt to cut down on sugar intake.

Easiest to avoid eating added sugars and saccharine sweetnesa than to try to engineer something that might have its own set of side effects.


this won't work. it will hope to lead to diabetes.


Do you have any evidence for that?


“ Evidence from RCTs does not clearly support the intended benefits of nonnutritive sweeteners for weight management, and observational data suggest that routine intake of nonnutritive sweeteners may be associated with increased BMI and cardiometabolic risk.”

Azad MB, Abou-Setta AM, Chauhan BF, Rabbani R, Lys J, Copstein L, Mann A, Jeyaraman MM, Reid AE, Fiander M, MacKay DS, McGavock J, Wicklow B, Zarychanski R. Nonnutritive sweeteners and cardiometabolic health: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials and prospective cohort studies. CMAJ. 2017 Jul 17;189(28):E929-E939. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.161390. PMID: 28716847; PMCID: PMC5515645.


"Forget artificial sweeteners. Researchers are now developing new forms of real sugar, to deliver sweetness with fewer calories. But tricking our biology is no easy feat."

Sugar is already tricking our biology. It brought us a diabetes pandemic. It is weird to say that it is difficult to get worse, but looks inevitable if we are using scientists to create more sugar in place of fixing the issues the overconsumption of it already created.


> Sugar is already tricking our biology.

There's no trick involved. Sugar appears to be exactly what it is. You want to eat it because it's sugar; that's your biology functioning as intended.


The ones pulling tricks is the food industry, putting so much of the stuff into everything.


I think the trick was making it plentiful and cheap enough that our bodies functioning as intended would consume a toxic quantity.




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