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High Fructose Corn Syrup: Should You Be Alarmed?

Lynn Smith
Professional Health Coach

Have you seen the television ads that recently started running about high fructose corn syrup? The Corn Refiners Association started running them a couple of months ago. This campaign is estimated to cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 to $30 million. Why is the Corn Refiners Association trying to sway your opinion about its product? Mostly because there's been controversy surrounding high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

One point the ads make is that HFCS comes from corn. This is true, but it has nowhere near the nutritional makings of an ear of corn. In fact, HFCS is a food additive and preservative made from genetically modified corn. The chemical change the corn is put through results in a product that prolongs shelf life maintains moisture and is cheaper than sugar.

It's estimated that as much as 40% of supermarket food now contains HFCS, which was introduced to the food supply in the 1970's. You'll see it in soft drinks. In fact, from 1977 to 2001, the consumption of fructose-sweetened beverages increased by 135%. In 2006 it was reported that adolescents, college students, and adults under the age of 50, were consuming as much as 20% of their calories from sugar-sweetened beverages. The shocking part of that statistic is that it doesn't include sugar consumed in the form of cakes and desserts. Most of this sugar is in the form of fructose and HFCS.

Is there a downside to HFCS? First, as with any sugar, it is an "empty calorie", meaning there are no vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, or nutritional value of any kind.

But, there is more cause for concern. HFCS, because of being chemically modified, is metabolized differently. It gets absorbed more quickly than regular sugars, and, unlike glucose, enters the cells without the help of insulin. What does this mean? Dr. Mark Hyman explains in his book Ultra-Metoblism, "Basically, that means that eating HFCS makes your cholesterol level shoot straight up and causes problems with your liver that slows down your metabolism."

This is a reaction that is different from other sugars. Furthermore, since HFCS is metabolized differently, your brain doesn't receive a message that you are full, causing you to stay hungry and continue to eat. Consuming HFCS can lead to increased appetite and calorie intake, and weight gain.

Cholesterol levels are not the only body function negatively affected by HFCS, your liver is affected, too. Fatty liver disease is the most common liver disease in America, affecting 20% of the population, the main cause being sugar consumption. The most common form of sugar is HFCS, which has been called a "supersugar". The consumption of all these sweeteners raises insulin levels, which contributes to the accumulation of fat in the liver cells. This can lead to insulin resistance.

HFCS has also been blamed for obesity. Dr. George Bray, principal investigator of the Diabetes Prevention Program at Louisiana State University Medical Center told the International Congress on Obesity that in 1980 the relatively stable obesity rates began to climb. This was just after HFCS started being used in mass quantities. By the year 2000, obesity rates doubled.

In 2004, researchers from the University of North Carolina and Louisiana State University published a paper about the role beverages with HFCS might play in the obesity epidemic. Between 1970 and 1990, there was a 1,000% increase in the consumption of HFCS beverages and a correlating rise in obesity. Researchers theorize that fructose may play a role in the obesity epidemic because of the way it is metabolized.

Being that HFCS is inexpensive, it is used practically everywhere, even where you might not expect. For example, a low-fat, fruit-flavored yogurt could have 10 teaspoons of fructose-based sweetener in one serving. Since HFCS helps prevent freezer burn, it's in many frozen foods. It also helps bread brown and keeps them soft, so you'll find it in baked goods such as bread, rolls, buns, and English muffins.

The US Department of Agriculture recommends a limit of 10 to 12 teaspoons of added sugar a day. This can be a real challenge when HFCS is also used as a preservative. Below is a list of examples of how much sugar, mostly in the form of HFCS, can be in a single serving:

  • Sunkist soda 10 ½ teaspoons
  • Berkeley Farms Low-fat Yogurt with fruit 10         teaspoons
  • Mott's Applesauce 5 teaspoons
  • Slim-fast Chocolate Cookie Dough Meal Bar 5     teaspoons
  • 1 Tablespoon of ketchup 1 teaspoon
  • Hansen's Super Vita Orange-Carrot Smoothie 10 teaspoons

Make a habit of reading labels. Anything that has been processed stands a good chance of containing HFCS. Switch to organic products, which are less likely to use HFCS in salad dressings, ketchups, etc. Start making the shift to whole, natural foods. Whether or not you choose to consume products containing HFCS, base your decision on your own research, not on what some television ad wants you to believe.


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