Developed in the laboratory in the late 1950s, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) became a sweetening agent for processed foods beginning in the mid-1970s. Today it is found in thousands of popular food products, including ketchup, salad dressing, yogurt, bread, soda, jam and jelly, tomato sauce and ice cream.
Because the prevalence of HFCS in our foods coincides with an increase in obesity in America, many scientists and nutritionists have made a connection between the two. One of the first of these studies was authored by G.A. Bray and was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2004. Since then, HFCS has been the center of much controversy, with proponents saying it is no different than other sugars and opponents saying it is behind many serious health issues.
To help understand what the truth about HFCS is, let’s first look at what it is and what it is not. First of all, HFCS is not a naturally occurring product.
To make HFCS, manufacturers separate corn starch from other parts of the kernel, leaving behind a liquid which is almost entirely glucose, according to LiveStrong.com. Then enzymes are added to the liquid in order to change it from glucose into fructose. The resulting highly refined liquid is very sweet, and it has preservative properties.
It’s also dangerous. In a study released earlier this year, University of Utah biologists fed mice large portions of high fructose corn syrup and table sugar and found that the death rate for female mice who ate corn syrup was 1.87 times higher than those on the regular sugar diet – and they produced 26 percent fewer offspring.
“This is the most robust study showing there is a difference between high fructose corn syrup and table sugar at human-relevant doses,” said university biology professor Wayne Potts.
What are the other dangers of consuming HGFS?
1. Over-eating. Unlike natural sugar, your body can take up to three days to fully digest high fructose corn syrup. As a result, the secretion of leptin — the hormone which signals the body that we’ve had enough to eat — is limited. Without this fullness signal, we can consume more food and beverages than necessary. In addition, since HFCS is sweeter than other sugars, it can cause our taste buds to adjust to highly sweet foods and crave more of them. These factors can lead to overeating and to weight gain.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates show that the average American’s daily caloric intake has grown by 24 percent since 1970. Other studies estimate that sugary beverages are a big reason for that increase. Since HFCS is used in many sodas and juices, it makes sense that it is adding to the problem. It’s also cheaper to make – and the American diet proves it, with nearly everything containing HFCS.
2. Increased belly fat. Drinking beverages and eating foods sweetened with HFCS have been linked with an increase in visceral fat, or the deposits of fat tissue beneath the abdominals. This fat can form around the internal organs, possibly increasing the risk of liver disease. A study published in November 2010 in the journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior revealed that rats that consumed more HFCS gained more weight in the belly area and had more triglycerides, a type of fat found in the blood.
3. Diabetes risk. HFCS in the liver can cause an overproduction of fat and cholesterol, or dyslipidemia. This buildup can in turn cause problems with the body using insulin to regulate blood sugar. Rutgers University research conducted in 2007 found that HFCS-sweetened sodas have high levels of reactive carbonyls, compounds which are found in excess in the blood of diabetics and which may contribute to tissue damage.
4. High blood pressure. HFCS can cause a rise in the blood’s level of uric acid, a waste product created after your body breaks down foods and drinks. An excess of uric acid can stress the kidneys and can lead to high blood pressure. A report in Medical News Today revealed that consuming 74 milligrams of HFCS (contained in 30 ounces of soda) can raise the risk of hypertension by 28 to 87 percent.
5. Mercury risk. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in 2008 found that one-third of all HFCS-containing food and beverages it studied tested positive for mercury. Researchers believe that the culprit is a compound called caustic soda, which is used to separate the corn starch from the kernel and which can be tainted with mercury.
How can you reduce your risk? Here are a few ideas:
- Become a label reader. Look for products that do not contain HFCS.
- Use all sweeteners in moderation, but consider natural sweeteners such as raw honey, organic cane sugar, maple syrup and fresh fruit juice instead of HFCS.
- Reduce or eliminate soda consumption. Whether it contains HFCS or not, one 12-ounce can of soda contains the total amount of added sugars you should consumer in an entire day. Fruit juice – even 100 percent fruit juice — also contains high amounts of sugar, so drink it in moderation as well and/or consider it as a flavoring for your water or seltzer.
Do you believe high fructose corn syrup should be avoided? Share your thoughts in the section below: