By: Megan Beyer, USJ Dietetic Intern, ’17
We have all seen how much criticism that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) gets, but do we really know why it is getting all this attention? We are told that we need to stay away from it and it is bad for our health. It is confusing to look at a package and recognize if a product has high fructose corn syrup in it. I think at this point it is important for consumers to be able to get these questions answered without bias of companies dominating the food industry!
In order to crack this case, we need to go back to the basics of what exactly is high fructose corn syrup to make a better a more educated decision. High fructose corn syrup is corn syrup that undergoes enzymatic processing where it is converting glucose into fructose and then mixed with pure corn syrup to reach the desired sweetness. Okay, so simply put it is a liquid sweetener that is similar to sugar. Traditionally high fructose is modified to exist as HFCS 42% which is composed of 58% glucose and 42% fructose. HFCS 42% is found in processed foods, cereals and baked goods and then HFCS 55% is composed of 45% glucose and 55% fructose is used soft drink beverages. There was a huge increase in adding high fructose corn syrup to carbonated beverages in the 1960’s and 1970’s due to the way in which it is stable in acidic foods and beverages. And unfortunately, high fructose corn syrup has become one of the most successful food ingredients in modern history. What is the common trend here, most processed food contains high fructose corn syrup and most of us don’t know it is in there. And on top of people being unaware that HFCS is in our products, it is causing detrimental effects on the health of our nation.
The next thing that that makes me think, is if HFCS is simply a type of liquid sugar that is used to sweeten our food, why is it so harmful to our bodies. When normal glucose, or table sugar is digested in our bodies it has two options to be converted and used as energy if needed or it can be converted to be stored as fat. When we compare glucose to fructose and evaluate the digestion, absorption, and metabolism in the body we see a lot of differences. When fructose is digested in the liver the chemical composition does not stimulate certain hormones that control hunger and blood sugar levels in the body. Although some of us may understand the science behind, is it most important to recognize that HFCS is stored because it bypasses the steps that glucose goes through.
Although there is a lot of contradicting information on studies done and what doctors have found, the bottom line is simply that HFCS is bad because of the effect it is having on the obesity epidemic of the United States and for that matter, around the world. As we know, added sugar to processed food is added calories, and no matter if we recognize it or not, a few hundred calories extra a day from having a soda, can result in a 3-pound weight gain in a month. Also for most individuals they are not going to drink only one soda a day, but instead have two or three where we see caloric over-consumption which is what we see lead to weight gain.
There are ways in which we are able to avoid HFCS, but that would include reading the label of a product. If you are really trying to cut back on the amount of HFCS in your food depending on your diet would be reducing the amount of processed food you eat. If this is not an option for your life style, it would be a great start to read the ingredient label. When reading the label most of the time it will not say “high fructose corn syrup” since food companies are trying to trick the customer and therefore put ingredients such as maize syrup, tapioca syrup, glucose/ fructose syrup, glucose syrup, dahlia syrup, fructose… but when it all boils down these are all the same as high fructose corn syrup, so stay away! Since we are not always able to avoid it, the best thing to do as a consumer is to moderate it. If you are not eating a ton of highly processed foods and every one in a while have these foods, it is okay in moderation, but be sure to read the label so you know exactly what you are putting inside of your body.
After doing extensive research on the topic of HFCS I have learned there are a lot of misconceptions about it and why it could kill you and why you can never eat it and so on. Always make sure that you are receiving information from a reputable scientific source to ensure the information is correct. Through further understanding I think we can all agree that at one point or another the foods we eat are going to have HFCS in them, and the best thing to do is simply reduce and monitor how much you are consuming!