Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Nutrition Spotlight: High-Fructose Corn Syrup

High-fructose corn syrup is found in everything from bread to soft drinks, and is a large contributor to our daily sugar intake. According to the USDA, Americans consume 156 pounds of added sugar each year! That's more than 20 extra pounds the average American is carrying due to sugar consumption.

High-fructose corn syrup is made up of a combination of glucose and fructose. Both are monosaccharides (mono = one, sacchar = sugar) and make up the most basic form of carbohydrates. By combining monosaccharides in different combinations and amounts, you can build disaccharides and polysaccharides.

High-fructose corn syrup starts as corn syrup, which is also known as glucose syrup, because it is made primarily of glucose. By processing the corn syrup, some of the glucose is turned into fructose. There are different ratios of glucose and fructose in high-fructose corn syrup to produce the desired amount of sweetness. Soft drinks use 55% fructose and 42% glucose (the rest being water), while 42% fructose and 53% glucose solutions are used in baked goods and processed foods.

The reason for its use is primarily cost. Several factors have caused the cost of table sugar (sucrose) to increase in price. Since then, there has been a lot of criticism against HFCS. Many believe that it's the cause of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, among other ailments. What's difficult to interpret is if these negative health effects are a result of new, processed ingredients in foods, or if it's because most of the population consumes too much of them. I believe if you consume 156 pounds of table sugar or HFCS annually, the results will be the same. Table sugar is 50% fructose and 50% glucose, while HFCS is 42-55% fructose and 42-53% glucose, as mentioned above. Do these small differences really make significant health differences?

I searched study after study and it seems that there are as many publications out there that have found that HFCS causes health problems as there are those that say it's processed no differently in the body than any other sugars. One thing is for certain though - HFCS is found in processed foods, and the more processed foods you consume, the more likely you are to not be eating a healthy diet. Thus, resulting in higher prevalence of obesity, diabetes, stroke, etc.

My personal belief is that high-fructose corn syrup is fine in moderation, just like any other sugar. You don't want to be eating tons of honey, agave or maple syrup, so why would you treat high-fructose corn syrup any differently? I also believe that our nation’s obesity and health problems are not the result of one single component. High-fructose corn syrup isn't making us obese. Consuming too many calories and making poor dietary choices on top of lack of exercise is what's causing health problems to rise.

Here are some articles I came across while researching that you may enjoy reading...
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
CBS News Investigates Sweetener Controversy
Corn Refiners Association Myths vs. Facts
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1 comment:

  1. Probably the most sensitive thing I have read about HFCS!

    I am European, where HFCS is banned from processed food (or still was before I left). All processed food is significantly sweeter than the same type of processed food I can find in France.I tend to be very paranoid about HCFS, it is EVERYWHERE here in the US, and at first I thought it was unavoidable, and it makes it really difficult to evaluate your sugar intake.
    I am really glad that at least over the last 4-5 years I have seen more and more food labeled no hfcs.

    But thanks to your article, I will feel less paranoid and suddenly diabetic whenever I eat a corn syrup ridden treat ;-)