As the western civilization continues to gain more and more weight, the search for answers continues – Why are we so fat?
If we look at things that have changed over the past few decades that may point to the cause, we cannot ignore the introduction of high fructose corn syrup into our diets. Almost every processed food contains HFCS, from bread to salad dressing to pasta sauce to muffins. With so much of it in our foods, it is essential to explore this man-made sweetener and decide what risks it poses to our health.
What is High Fructose Corn Syrup and Why Is It In Our Food?
High fructose corn syrup was first engineered in the early 1970’s and rapidly entered our food supply in the form of sodas and processed foods. Before this, table sugar was used to sweeten these products. HFCS is manufactured from mostly genetically modified corn, using enzymes to convert some of its glucose into fructose.
After the US government provided subsidies for farms that grew corn, food companies quickly began growing it in massive amounts and producing this sweetener, as it was now cheaper and more efficient to produce than sugar.
What is the Difference Between Sugar and High Fructose Corn Syrup?
Table or white sugar is made of pure sucrose derived from sugar cane and beets, and HFCS is a mixture of fructose and glucose derived from corn starch. Sucrose is broken down into fructose and glucose by the body, using our own natural enzymes.
High fructose corn syrup has no chemical bond between the glucose and fructose, so no digestion takes place and it is absorbed much more rapidly by your body and into your bloodstream. The fructose goes directly to the liver and triggers fat cell production, and the glucose causes a rapid spike in insulin. More studies show that HFCS actually causes body inflammation because it depletes ATP, our body’s energy source .
So Isn’t Sugar Just Sugar, Like The TV Commercials Say?
When the safety of high fructose corn syrup fell under scrutiny, the corn industry spent millions on marketing campaigns to clean up their image. They claim that high fructose corn syrup is just sugar, and our bodies don’t know the difference.
The debate here is NOT over whether processed sugars in excess are bad for your health, but whether MODERATE intake of high fructose corn syrup is. If you’re consuming HFCS in moderation and not excess, shouldn’t you be safe?
Recently, a Princeton University research team tested this theory by feeding lab rats both . They found that the rats who ingested high fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than the ones fed table sugar, even when the caloric amount was the exact same. Not only did the HFCS-fed rats gain more weight eating the same amount of calories, but they developed dangerous health conditions:
“Compared to animals eating only rat chow, rats on a diet rich in high-fructose corn syrup showed characteristic signs of a dangerous condition known in humans as the metabolic syndrome, including abnormal weight gain, significant increases in circulating triglycerides and augmented fat deposition, especially visceral fat around the belly. Male rats in particular ballooned in size: Animals with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained 48 percent more weight than those eating a normal diet.” Princeton University
High fructose corn syrup has also been found to contain a significant amount of mercury , which is toxic to our neurological system. This is especially troubling considering that high fructose corn syrup is consumed in larger amounts by children and teens (up to 80% more than adults).
HFCS has also recently been linked to higher rates of the deadly type 2 diabetes in countries that add it to their food supply, up to 20% higher .
Because of the rapid absorption in the body of HFCS, the body’s “full” signals do not activate properly. So when we eat these foods, we tend to overeat because we never feel satisfied. There is no trigger to tell the brain to stop eating.
Another difference is that high fructose corn syrup is added to EVERYTHING, even products that you wouldn’t think of, such as ketchup. The food industry uses it to enhance flavor (some would go as far as to say to get you addicted, but that’s another article) and to increase shelf life. So if you’re eating a lot of processed foods, you’re eating way more sugar than you may even realize.
You may also be wondering why fructose in HFCS is considered bad for you while fructose is found naturally in fruit. The difference is that fructose in fruit is bound to fiber and nutrients, which helps to release it into the body slowly as opposed to the rapid absorption mentioned above.
If This Is True, Why is All the Information Out There So Confusing?
You may have heard conflicting information on high fructose corn syrup, including the ads on tv that claim “sugar is sugar”. The truth is that most of the studies that have concluded that high fructose corn syrup acted the same in the body as sugar were either funded by the manufacturers themselves, or pieces were taken and used out of context by these same manufacturers. Further research is always being performed and more information is needed from independent sources to reach a more solid conclusion.
The food industry wants your money. They have a good thing going with high fructose corn syrup. It’s dirt cheap to produce and it increases their profit margin significantly. They are going to tell you just about anything to get you to keep consuming it, including attempting to change the name to “corn sugar” to make it sound more natural (they were denied by the FDA) .
So what should you take away from all this? Well, sugar isn’t good for you, and we consume WAY too much. Hopefully you already know that. But you may still think that high fructose corn syrup is fine “in moderation”.
After reading these facts, hopefully you’ll conclude that it is actually to be avoided as it seems to cause even more damage to your system than regular sugar, and is proving to be even more addictive. Even if you conclude that there isn’t enough evidence yet to know about HFCS for sure, wouldn’t you rather not take the chance than to be sorry down the line?
How Can I Avoid High Fructose Corn Syrup?
The answer is simple – eat real food. Avoid anything processed. Read food labels and make the best decisions you can. Fill your plate with fresh fruit and vegetables. Make your own sauces and dressings. Bake your own cakes and muffins.
If you have to have a soda every now and then, choose one made with natural cane sugar. It may take a little more effort in the long run, but is risking your’s and your family’s health worth it?
What is your opinion of high fructose corn syrup? What have you heard about it?