The Not-So-Sweet Truth About High Fructose Corn Syrup

High Fructose Corn Syrup

All sweeteners are not equal when it comes to weight gain! More than 40 years ago high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) was introduced as a cost-effective sweetener in the American diet. It’s found in a wide range of foods and beverages, including fruit juice, soda, cereal, bread, yogurt, ketchup, and mayonnaise. On average, Americans consume 60 pounds of the sweetener per person every year! Since then, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that rates of obesity in the U.S. have skyrocketed. In 1970, around 15 percent of the U.S. population met the definition for obesity; today, roughly one-third of the American adults are considered obese.

More and more research is pointing to a correlation between weight gain and HFCS. In results published by the journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior, the researchers from the Department of Psychology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute reported on two experiments investigating the link between the consumption of HFCS and obesity. Rats with HFCS in their diet gained 48 percent more weight than those eating a normal diet. They also exhibited the characteristics of obesity such as an increase in belly fat and circulating triglycerides. In humans, these are known risk factors for high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, cancer, and diabetes. The researchers say the work sheds light on the factors contributing to obesity trends in the United States.

The use of HFCS in our processed food remains a controversial issue. Many corn trade associations and interests insist that there is very little difference between cane sugar and HFCS. High-fructose corn syrup and sucrose are both compounds that contain the simple sugars fructose and glucose, but there are at least two clear differences between them. Sucrose is 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose while the typical HFCS contains 55 percent fructose and 42 percent glucose. Larger sugar molecules called higher saccharides make up the remaining 3 percent of the sweetener. Second, as a result of the manufacturing process for HFCS, the fructose molecules in the sweetener are free and unbound, readily available for absorption and utilization. On the other hand, every fructose molecule in sucrose that comes from cane sugar or beet sugar is bound to a corresponding glucose molecule and must go through an extra metabolic step before it can be utilized. The Princeton study suggests that excess fructose metabolizes to produce fat, while glucose is largely processed for energy or stored as a carbohydrate, called glycogen, in the liver and muscles.

With HFCS in so many of our foods, what is a consumer to do? Here are a few of our suggestions.

  • Avoid fast food. Fast food often contains HFCS.
  • Read all food labels. High fructose corn syrup can be found in almost anything!
  • Remember that “natural” does not necessarily mean HFCS-free because fructose is a naturally occurring sugar. On the other hand, foods labeled as 100% organic can be assumed to be HFCS-free.
  • Avoid canned or bottled beverages. Soft drinks, sports drinks, lemonade, iced tea, and almost every sweet drink you can think of contains high-fructose corn syrup.

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