High Fructose Corn Syrup is the most commonly added sweetener in processed foods and beverages. Although it’s chemically similar to table sugar, there are concerns because of how it is processed.
High-fructose corn syrup is produced by milling corn to produce corn starch, then processing that starch to yield corn syrup, which is almost entirely glucose. From there, enzymes are added that change some of the glucose into fructose. Normally, corn syrup isn’t very sweet, but once its glucose has been converted into fructose and the corn syrup has been transformed into high-fructose corn syrup, it’s much sweeter than regular table sugar.
One of the main reasons HFCS is used so often in beverages is because it mixes better with other liquids — it’s much easier to mix high-fructose corn syrup into soft drinks than table sugar. Best yet, despite the considerably more complicated processing, high-fructose corn syrup is cheaper to use than regular sugar. Also, the sugars in the syrups act as a preservative, which is why HFCS is now added to some meats.” Did you know your steak had HFCS in it?
A huge concern with High Fructose Corn Syrup is that studies have shown when people consume artificial sweeteners they have an increased desire to continue eating. In 2005, Americans each consumed, on average, more than 42 pounds of high-fructose corn syrup. The average American also consumes 200 daily calories from HFCS, which is close to 10 percent of all daily calories consumed. Obesity rates have been climbing in the United States since the 1980’s. Some people say due to the fact that HFCS was rapidly introduced to many processed foods and Soft drinks in the U.S. from about 1975 to 1985. In 2007, Colorado was the only state with less than 20 percent of its population qualifying as obese. Additionally, between 1994 and 2004, new diagnoses of type-2 diabetes increased by 23 percent. Many people believe that HFCS plays some role in the obesity and diabetes epidemics now plaguing the United States and much of the world.
In small amounts, HFCS shouldn’t be any more harmful than regular sugar. The fructose in HFCS, though modified from glucose, is structurally and in all other ways the same as natural fructose. Additionally, HFCS has nearly the same makeup of fructose and glucose as table sugar (most HFCS has 55 percent fructose, compared to 50 percent found in table sugar). But there does seem to be a connection between the use of HFCS and obesity and type-2 diabetes, so what gives?
First off, that additional 10 percent of fructose content does make a difference in caloric intake, especially since HFCS is found in so many products. Imagine a world in which all sugar has been replaced by HFCS (not a far stretch): You could eat the exact same foods, but you would be consuming 10 percent more sugar.
Unlike glucose, which is metabolized a number of ways by your body, fructose is only metabolized by your liver. When the liver receives more fructose than it can handle, the excess sugars are turned into fats in the form of triglycerides, which are harmful to your arteries and your heart.
There’s much to be learned about how our bodies react to fructose, but researchers do know that fructose doesn’t stimulate production of insulin, leptin or ghrelin, all of which play a part in telling the body how much it needs to eat. Without receiving these internal signals to stop eating, it becomes that much easier for us to continue chowing down on that pint of double-chocolate fudge ice cream.
The biggest problem is that HFCS is being added to food items that don’t normally have sugar and that you wouldn’t even describe as sweet — crackers, even meat! So, not only are we chugging down lots of sugars with our steak, but your PBJ sandwich could have HFCS in each of its three ingredients. Meal after meal, day after day, all of this extra sugar adds up, and that, is likely one reason why rates for obesity and diabetes have climbed since the introduction of HFCS. (Other factors are in play as well, such as decreased activity and exercise levels and increased fat consumption.)
So what can we do? Well, for starters, do everything you’re already supposed to do. Get regular exercise! There are tons of fun ideas for workouts on here. Staying in shape doesn’t have to be boring. Also be sure you watch your fat intake and get regular medical checkups. Next, it wouldn’t hurt to mimic the practices of those rare (and smart!) individuals in grocery-store aisles who read the labels of the food they are purchasing. Once you get in this habit, you will likely be shocked to learn just how much of your regular grocery purchases contain high-fructose corn syrup. If nearly all of your food contains concentrated sugars, it stands to reason that you’ll be eating too many sugars. And if you want to go crazy, eat some fruits and veggies. There are some great recipes on this site that are easy and healthy that the whole family will love. You’ll get all the glucose you need, and these healthier alternatives will take the place of the less healthy foods now flooding our markets and grocery stores.