High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)


This is my take on high fructose corn syrup. There is a LOT of argument about it. Basically I look at it this way…HFCS itself, not the evil assigned to it, the easy production and use of HFCS is the true evil.
Many have seen the commercials saying that HFCS is not any worse than regular sugar. They say that it has the same calories as regular sugar. This is true. When looked at “on paper” sugar and high fructose corn syrup are very similar. Yet, there are some big differences that lead to the murky sugar world. So I begin a quest to explain what is really a bunch of conflicting information.Sucrose vs. fructose
Surcrose is the form of sugar cane and beet sugar. Sucrose is a disaccharide meaning that it is a combination of a molecule of glucose and fructose. I will spare you the most interesting part (the chemistry) but they are connected by a weak bond that broken during digestion. We produce an enzyme called sucrase which breaks a sucrose molecule into a glucose molecule and a fructose molecule. It is here we find one of the first arguments against HFCS. Research has shown that the sucrase enzyme and the process of breaking down sucrose has a regulatory effect on the body’s ability to control the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. Without this regulation we are less able to control the absorption of sugar. It is important to remember that table sugar and HFCS have almost the same ratio of glucose to fructose. This an argument that producers of HFCS have used. Technically, they are nearly the same and once the body has broken down a sucrose molecule, the body behaves very similar to table sugar and HFCS. However, HFCS does not have that chemical bond between fructose and glucose, therefore the enzyme sucrase is not required to breakdown HFCS. It may be that because part of the body’s natural regulation is skipped with HFCS we do not get the same feeling of “full” or “satisfaction” so we consume more while the liver is releasing more into the bloodstream. No research yet has been absolutely conclusive so this debate continues…

Fructose all by itself
Remember that HFCS is a mixture of about 55% fructose and 45% glucose so no one has conclusively been able to link research about fructose directly to HFCS. In order for fructose research to apply to HFCS and not table sugar it would have to be established that the body behaves differently to fructose produced by the breakdown of sucrose (table sugar) rather than a free molecule of fructose (HFCS). This has not happened yet. However, there are some studies about fructose that suggest fructose doesn’t stimulate the pancreas to produce insulin. It also does not stimulate the body’s fat cells to produce leptin. Both insulin and leptin are responsible for signaling the brain to reduce appetite and help control weight. On the other hand, research has also shown that fructose alone does not necessary stimulate the body to increase appetite either. Other research has also shown that higher consumption of fructose can lead to higher level of triglycerides/fat in the bloodstream.

Cheap and Easy Sugar
High fructose corn syrup became widely used in America in the early 1980’s. This correlates with our rapid rise in obesity. Obviously HFCS cannot be blamed for all of America’s obesity problems (ie food portions, soda consumption, higher fat intakes, etc) I think it is fair to say that the large use of HFCS has not helped! Due to the US government farm subsidies on corn and the US tariffs and restrictions on imported sugar, HFCS were cheaper and raw sugar more expensive. HFCS can also extend the shelf life of many products. Some believe that this cheap and easy access to sugar has encouraged manufactures to produce many more sugar products, increase portion sizes for less and add extra sugar to products to make them even more sweet. Now we find HFCS in yogurt, bread, sauces, cereal, crackers, soda, boxed meals, juices…basically everything. Another problem that is related to HFCS but not directly HFCS’s fault is the fact that we have replaced our more nutrient rich products with high sugar products. The consumption of soda has jumped hundreds of percentage points while milk has only gone up a little. Fruit juice has replaced milk as a “healthy” alternative but even pure fruit juice is loaded with sugar. For me, avoiding HFCS also helps me avoid sugar in general because I make more items from scratch allowing me to control sugar.

This is just a personal side note but I like the taste of products with cane sugar better. Try a Mexican Coke or Dr. Pepper and you will taste the difference between soda made with sugar and soda made with HFCS. Blue Bell Ice Cream started adding HFCS to their ice cream. I noticed a difference in taste long before I knew they had started using HFCS.

Current Research
Feb 2009 – There has been some research showing products that contain HFCS have measurable mercury content. This is due to the process of making HFCS and not the HFCS themselves. Representatives for HFCS say these claims are baseless as the industry stopped using mercury laced production products years ago but researchers were able to find places still using the technology involving mercury. They concluded that there aren’t many HFCS with mercury but still some left in productions.

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