High Fructose Corn Syrup

Iced cola in glass

Back in the 70’s, food and drink manufactures began adding high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) to their products. In light of today’s obesity epidemic that is riding on the heels of HFCS, is this stuff bad for us, or not? Is it better, just as bad or worse for us than refined sugar. In this article, I will sort this out for you.

What is HFCS?

High-fructose corn syrup is a liquid sweetener made from corn. When corn starch is broken down into individual molecules, it becomes corn syrup, which is 100% glucose, or,  a simple sugar. To make HFCS, enzymes are added to convert some of this glucose into fructose, which is also called “fruit sugar” because it occurs naturally in fruits and berries.

HFCS has the same calories as other sugars we add to food and drink, yet it is cheaper than sugar, and has better flavor enhancement and a longer shelf life. It’s more stable and consistent, especially in acidic foods and drinks which is why food producers use it.

HFCS is a cheap ingredient. Processed food manufactures can achieve the same level of sweetness provided by table sugar or other fruit based sweeteners,  but only with less product. For instance, the content of a bottle of regular soda pop, the stuff containing HFCS is almost ten percent cheaper than a bottle of diet soda with artificial sweeteners and thirty percent cheaper than its “real sugar” counterpart. HFCS lowers the cost of sweetening foods and beverages. With lower costs we have increased consumption.

The Effects of High Fructose Corn Syrup Consumption

HFCS is also known technically as HFCS-55 and HFCS-45 according to their content of fructose. HFCS-55 is 55% fructose, while HFCS-45 is 45% fructose. The other percentage of sugar in both is simple glucose. Both are indistinguishable in taste from sucrose, they are just cheaper ingredients.

In America, our taste for sugar had been fairly consistent since the nineteen twenties. The national average for annual consumption of sweeteners such as sugar, honey, and syrups had remained at about 110 pounds per capita until it began to rise in the nineteen sixties, which was about the time for the first introduction of HFCS to the public. Consumption  then increased to an annual average of 124 pounds per person. By 2000, that average jumped to 150 pounds per year per person. Corn sweeteners, specifically HFCS constituted virtually every ounce of this increase.

To explain this increase in the use of sweeteners, we consumers did not compare the consumption of HFCS to eating sugar. HFCS-55 is chemically, almost identical to refined sugar, therefore the public perceived it as a healthy ingredient.  The thought was, because fructose was the predominate sugar in fruit, then it couldn’t be bad for us. After all, we all know that fruit is good for us, right? Another reason fructose was viewed as a healthier alternative to sucrose is that it does not elevate blood sugar and it has a low glycemic index.

We were deceived with Fructose!

HFCS was advertised as being a healthier alternative to sugar since it was healthy, or natural. Your cola was looked at as being healthier, yet it still contained the same amount of sugar, water and chemical flavoring.

Public health officials, by defining carbohydrates as good or bad, had effectively misdiagnosed the impact of fructose on the human body. The key to the problem between glucose and fructose is not with blood sugar, but with your liver. About 30 to 40% of glucose goes directly into the bloodstream where it is taken up by tissues and organs for energy. Fructose on the other hand, goes straight to the liver to be metabolized. The problem with this is it creates a metabolic load targeted directly on your liver. The liver responds by converting the fructose into triglycerides, and then sends it out to lipoproteins for storage. The more fructose we consume, the higher our triglyceride levels will be in our blood.

For several years, triglycerides were overlooked because it was thought that cholesterol was a bigger problem. Triglycerides were not thought of as a cardiovascular disease risk factor. All the attention was placed on cholesterol.

Fructose blocks both the metabolism of glucose in the liver, and the synthesis of glucose into glycogen. Glycogen is stored by the liver for use at a later time. As a result, the pancreas secretes more insulin to overcome this glucose traffic jam at the liver. When this is occurring, our muscles are induced to compensate by becoming more and more insulin resistant. Even though fructose is low on the glycemic index and has little effect on blood sugar or insulin, it still induces insulin resistance. It has also been known since the sixties that fructose elevates blood pressure more than glucose. This is known as fructose-induced hypertension.

The worst of both sugars.

Sucrose and high fructose corn syrup are both effectively half glucose and half fructose. They are the worst of sugars for you. The fructose stimulates the liver to produce triglycerides, while the glucose stimulates insulin secretion. The glucose induced insulin secretion prompts the liver to create even more triglycerides than it would by fructose alone.

The effect of fructose on the formation of advanced glycation end-products (AGE’s) is the haphazard glomming together of proteins in cells and tissues, which is not good. Most of the research on AGE accumulation in humans has focused on the influence of glucose. This is simply because glucose is the dominate sugar in the blood. However, glucose is actually the least reactive sugar. It is the least likely to attach itself without an enzyme to a nearby protein, which is the first step in the formation of AGE’s. Fructose is more reactive than in the blood stream than glucose, possibly ten times more effective than glucose at inducing the cross-linking of proteins that lead to the cellular junk of AGE’s. Fructose leads to the formation of AGE’s and cross -linked proteins that are more resistant to the body’s disposal mechanism than those created by glucose. As a result, we end up with an increase in the oxidation of LDL particles, which is a step leading to atherosclerosis.

Doubt and confusion are the currency of deception.  As a result of this, we have become  complacent. Through massive print and television advertising campaigns by the Corn Refiners Association have attempted to dispel the “myth” that HFCS is harmful. The assertion made by paid “medical and nutrition experts” is that HFCS is no different than cane sugar. It is a “natural” product that is a healthy part of our diet when used in moderation.

Except for one problem. HFCS is a major cause of heart disease, obesity, cancer, dementia, liver failure, tooth decay, and more.


Good Calories Bad Calories, Gary Taubes

Copyright, 2007

Are “Natural” Sweeteners Better For You?

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