Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

Should We Avoid High Fructose Corn Syrup?

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Public relations of high-fructose corn syrup

Public relations of high-fructose corn syrup (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is perhaps one of the most successful ingredients used in processed foods at least for the food producer; however, it remains one of the most controversial additives concerning its safety and its effects on health. Its development in the 1960’s has led it be the most commonly added sweetener in food products. From 1970 to 1990, its consumption increased more than 1000%. The increased consumption has now been associated with the rise in obesity, diabetes type 2, and heart disease, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Is it a health threat or just another convenient and inexpensive way to sweeten our foods?

HFCS is manufactured by extracting starch from corn. Starch molecules are made of chains of glucose molecules. Further treatment then breaks the bonds between the resulting glucose molecules with a little over half of the glucose molecules being converted to fructose, thus high fructose corn syrup. Food manufacturers benefit from using HFCS due to its lower cost and its storage stability features. Although in 1970, sucrose was the predominant sweetener is soft drinks, it has been replaced with HFCS. It is used in other products such as cereals, canned soups, and salad dressings and condiments.

Fructose may be implicated in obesity due to the following physiological processes: Simply, when compared to glucose, fructose consumption contributes more to body fat deposition and less to hormonal appetite suppression which has the potential to contribute to weight gain

Supporters of HFCS contend that fructose is contained in many foods and has been part of our diets for many decades. Fructose is known as fruit sugar and is found in fruits and vegetables. Also, sucrose is composed of glucose bound to fructose in equal proportions, which makes it chemically similar to HFCS. So why is fructose thought to be the demon? One reason may be that the fructose in HFSC is unbound making it more easily absorbed for use in the body. The bound molecules found in sucrose have to be released by digestion before it can be used.

Does fructose contribute to obesity? Studies on humans are few and give us no conclusive evidence. However, in animal studies, rats that received HFCS in water for 8 weeks compared to sucrose gained more weight, more body fat and had higher triglyceride levels than those fed sucrose despite consuming fewer calories.

We are beginning to see some manufacturers eliminate HFCS from their products. Time will tell if this removal will affect obesity rates. However, the causes of obesity are multifactorial and it is highly unlikely that the elimination of one of the potential factors will make much of a difference. However, there are other health problems with fructose.

See a previous post HERE.


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