The Dangers of High-Fructose Corn Syrup
You may be familiar with the ads produced by the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) claiming that high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is made from corn, has no artificial ingredients, has the same calories as table sugar, and is “fine in moderation.” The CRA ads urge consumers to “get the facts” by visiting its HFCS Web site, SweetSurprise, where further claims are made about HFCS’s role in a healthy lifestyle. But many health experts continue to attack HFCS, citing research that has linked it to obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors including high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels, and low HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
What is high-fructose corn syrup?
High-fructose corn syrup is a sweetener that is found in sodas, fruit drinks, salad dressings, baked goods, canned fruit, cookies, jams and jellies, and other processed foods. Because it is cheaper than sugar and extends the shelf life of processed foods, it has become an increasingly popular ingredient over the past few decades. According to the USDA’s Dietary Assessment of Major Trends in U.S. Food Consumption, 1970-2005, use of HFCS increased more than ten thousand percent during this time period.
HFCS is made by converting the glucose in cornstarch to fructose, resulting in a product that is about half glucose, half fructose. HFCS is so highly processed that the end product bears little or no resemblance to the corn it starts as.
The dangers of high-fructose corn syrup
According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, HFCS is metabolized to fat more rapidly than other forms of sugar. Normally, when sugar enters the liver, the liver decides whether to store it as glycogen, burn it for energy, or turn it into fat. Fructose, however, is immediately turned into fat. In addition, the consumption of fructose has been found to increase the liver’s fat production even hours later, meaning the HFCS-containing fruit beverage you drink at breakfast could program your liver to store any sugar you eat at lunch instead of converting it into energy.
The April 2004 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that consumption of high-fructose corn syrup may play a role in the obesity epidemic by elevating triglyceride levels and increasing insulin resistance. According to Dr. Michael Roizen, chief wellness officer of the Cleveland Clinic, one of the biggest dangers of HFCS is its effect on two different hormones that control appetite. HFCS inhibits the secretion of leptin, an appetite-suppressing hormone that tells your brain when you’re full. It also causes a surge in the production of gherlin, a hormone that stimulates hunger. The altered levels of both hormones confuses the body’s natural sense of satiation; your stomach may be full, but your brain doesn’t receive the message.
“People consume too much high-fructose corn syrup in this country,” says Dr. Chi-Tang Ho, who conducted chemical tests on soft drinks containing HFCS and found they contained “astonishingly high” levels of reactive carbonyls, compounds that may cause tissue damage and diabetes. “It’s in way too many food and drink products and there’s growing evidence that it’s bad for you.” Research published in Environmental Health (January 2009) also indicates that HFCS may often be contaminated with mercury.
Tips for reducing HFCS intake
Reducing your consumption of HCFS may help you lose weight and reduce your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome. Due to its ubiquitous nature, it may be difficult to eliminate HFCS from your diet entirely, but by making informed choices about the foods you eat, you can drastically reduce your intake.
- Stop drinking soda and fruit drinks sweetened with HFCS.
- Read labels. Severely limit your consumption of foods with HFCS as a main ingredient.
- Cut back on processed foods as much as possible. If you do eat processed foods, measure your portions and eat from a plate or bowl instead of eating directly from the packaging.
- Buy from companies who have committed to getting rid of HFCS. Visit Stop HFCS for a list of HFCS-free foods.