High-Fructose Corn Syrup, Aka: HFCS. Is the Devil, Right?
I’m a huge opponent of high-fructose corn syrup otherwise known as HFCS. That said, I will do my best to remain neutral and explain why. This topic is not black and white. There are many shades of gray.
A Little Chemistry
Our body uses glucose and Fructose (monosaccharides) as its energy sources and both are “simple sugars”. The most important monosaccharide is glucose because it is already at the state where the body’s enzymes can initiate metabolism and doesn’t need to be processed further. Most other more complex sugars and carbohydrates need to be processed in order to be turned into glucose by the body. Glucose is also our “blood” sugar. The body’s pancreas produces insulin in response to elevated levels of glucose in the blood as well as the energy regulating hormone leptin. Not so with fructose.
Fructose is a natural sugar found in fruits and vegetables. It is also added to foods and beverages to sweeten them. The problem lies in the metabolic pathway fructose has in the body. Fructose is not the preferred energy source for muscles or the brain as is glucose and tends to be treated more like fat in the body than sugar. Fructose can only be metabolized by the liver and is more fat-producing than glucose. More importantly, fructose does not cause insulin to be released or leptin to be produced.
Because Fructose isn’t the body’s primary energy source it builds up in the body and is stored in the liver as triglycerides (fat) while the body’s insulin response is only to the glucose.
The History Of HFCS vs Sucrose
High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a fructose-glucose liquid alternative sweetener to sucrose (table sugar), and was first introduced to the food and beverage industry for mass use in the 1970s. HFCS is not meaningfully different in composition or metabolism from other fructose-glucose sweeteners like sucrose, honey, and fruit juice concentrates.
Sucrose is 50% glucose and 50% fructose. There are basically two types of commonly used HFCS, HFCS-42 and HFCS-55. 42 is only 42% fructose and 55 is 55% fructose.
Food formulators quickly moved to HFCS as a replacement for sucrose, and its use grew between the mid-1970s and mid-1990s. Its sweetness is comparable with that of sucrose, it has improved stability and functionality, and is much easier to use because it is already a liquid.
Even though the use of HFCS today is roughly equal to sucrose use in the United States, the world’s preferred sweetener is sucrose: greater than 90% of the sweetener used worldwide is sucrose.
HFCS is less expensive to produce than sucrose. Sucrose comes from countries that are somewhat unstable and the basic crop price can fluctuate wildly. When sugarcane is processed into sucrose it is a solid gradual that must be dissolved in water to the proper concentration before it can be used. HFCS is produced as a liquid, ready to use and is more easily transported.
Even though the product is called High-Fructose corn syrup, it has only slightly more (55%) or slightly less (42%) fructose than does sucrose which has 50% fructose. The Corn Refiners Association has petitioned the United States Food and Drug Administration to change the name simply to “corn sugar”. So far they have been denied.
The Bad And Ugly
I’m not going to hit you with a bunch of numbers. All I need to say is that obesity in America is at an all time high.
As I see it there are many reasons why, pick a few of these.
- Food is easier to get
- It is “cool” to over eat, there are even eating contests
- Serving sizes are much larger
- Everything has sugar or sweetener in it
- Prepared or fast-food is now more common and easy to get when time is short
- There are many more places to get food than ever before
- Deserts, candy and sweet foods that were once considered a treat are now readily available at any time.
- There are many more “snack” foods flooding the market
- School children are NOT required to exercise for the most part
- TV and Computers have taken over play time where playing outside and physical games once dominated
- The general public is not sufficiently educated as related to nutrition and diet
Conclusions and Recommendations from the Farm
For the first time in modern history the average life expectancy has dropped in the US. The reasons given mostly revolved around obesity and heart disease.
My research has lead me to conclude that high-fructose corn syrup is no worse for us than ordinary table sugar. The problem is that we are consuming many times the sugar than is healthy.
The chart above shows that in 1822, the average American ate the amount of sugar found in one of today’s 12-ounce sodas every 5 days. Now, we eat that much every 7 hours. We are now eating roughly 100 pounds of sugar apiece each year.
Since you are reading my rants on the Fat Farm you are doing the best thing you can to improve your health. Educate yourself. As always don’t believe a thing I say. Research, trust but verify. Put in the time and do the work. Ask questions. – jughandle