High Fructose Corn Syrup

What’s the verdict?  Studies are still up in the air.  Check out my recent post about this on Martha McKittrick’s blog.  Or read it right here:

If you live in America and eat her food, chances are you’re consuming high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).  A quick look around the grocery store reveals plenty of products with this ingredient.  Fructose is the sweetest and cheapest of all sugars, making it convenient and desirable to manufacture.  For this reason, it’s used in most packaged foods.

What exactly is HFCS?  And is it really that unhealthy?
Although fructose is a type of sugar found naturally in fruit, it is modified radically when it becomes high-fructose corn syrup.  U.S. corn refiners produce HFCS by converting corn starch to syrup (they have to do this because glucose is the type of sugar in corn, not fructose!)  The syrup is then treated with a series of synthetic enzymes and additives. The result is a mix between fructose and glucose, and a treasure trove of HFCS is born for food manufacturers to use at their disposal.

What are some products that have HFCS?
Almost all processed (convenience) foods and sodas have HFCS.  Even unsuspecting foods will have this sugar.  Here are some examples:

• Dannon light yogurt
• Gatorade
• Salad dressing
• Ketchup
• Soda
• Chocolate syrup

What’s the verdict?
Many studies show a link between obesity and sweetened drinks, which have HFCS.  On the other hand, the American Medical Association (AMA) recently concluded that high fructose corn syrup “does not appear to contribute more to obesity than other caloric sweeteners.”  Clearly, the reports are still unclear!  But conclusive new evidence this year proposes that not all sugars are created equal.  The study, in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, compared how our bodies respond to glucose and fructose.  University of California Davis researchers found that those who drank fructose-sweetened beverages showed negatives changes in liver function and fat deposits.

Should I Stop Eating High-Fructose Corn Syrup?
In vast quantities, yes.  Food and beverages processed with this sugar are usually empty calories (meaning, that they provide little nutritional value!)  Regularly incorporating foods with HFCS can also lead to greater risk chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

Here are some practical tips:
1) Curb your processed food enthusiasm. Those trying to stick with unprocessed foods and/or organic ingredients should also avoid HFCS.

2) Fructose from fruit and vegetables is okay! Remember, fructose is natural. HFCS is not, being that the enzyme preparation is synthetic.

3) Sugar is sugar is sugar.  Whether in the form of glucose, table sugar, fructose HFCS or even honey, the amount of total sugar intake is what matters.

4) Choose products with no added sugar. And make sure to check the ingredient list, just to be sure.

5) Be skeptical. The Corn Association just put out commercials attempting to dismantle HFCS’s bad rap.

6) Balance it out. As with other food, HFCS can be enjoyed in moderation.

References:  http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1892841,00.html
High Fructose Corn Syrup and Weight Status, Dec 2008. ADA position paper


One response to this post.

  1. Yes! No wonder people can eat a whole box of wheat thins and not feel full. I think high fructose corn syrup is not just used to create flavor or adjust caloric content, but to actually trigger something in the brain that makes a person think they are still hungry, or at least are not satisfied. Another legal addictive substance?


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