High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) also called glucose/fructose in some other countries, is the principal sweetener used in processed foods and beverages in the United States, due to significantly high tariffs in the sugar prices, that are two to three times higher than in the rest of the world, which makes HFCS significantly cheaper. It is commonly used in breads, cereals, breakfast bars, lunch meats, yogurts, soft drinks, soups and condiments. HFCS became an attractive substitute and is preferred over cane sugar by the vast majority of American food and beverage manufacturers.
Health concerns have been raised about HFCS, which allege contribution to obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and non alcoholic fatty liver disease. The Corn Refiners Association’s attempt to dispel the “myth” that HFCS is harmful and assert through the opinion of “medical and nutrition experts” that it 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. When used in moderation it is a major cause of cancer, dementia, tooth decay, and more.
Critics of the extensive use of HFCS in food sweetening argue that the highly processed substance is more harmful to humans than regular sugar, contributing to weight gain by affecting normal appetite functions.
The current debate about the benefits (or lack of harm) of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in our diet misses the obvious. The average American increased their consumption of HFCS (mostly from sugar sweetened drinks and processed food) from zero to over 60 pounds per person per year.
During that time period, obesity rates have more than tripled and diabetes incidence has increased more than seven fold. Not perhaps the only cause, but a fact that cannot be ignored.
The goal of the corn industry is to call into question any claim of harm from consuming high fructose corn syrup, and to confuse and deflect by calling their product natural “corn sugar”. That’s like calling tobacco in cigarettes natural herbal medicine.
Here are 4 reasons why you should stay away from any product containing high fructose corn syrup and why it may kill you.
1. Sugar in any form causes obesity and disease when consumed in pharmacologic doses.Cane sugar and high fructose corn syrup are indeed both harmful when consumed in pharmacologic doses of 140 pounds per person per year.When one 20 ounce HFCS sweetened soda, sports drink, or tea has 17 teaspoons of sugar (and the average teenager often consumes two drinks a day) we are conducting a largely uncontrolled experiment on the human species.Our hunter gatherer ancestors consumed the equivalent of 20 teaspoons per year, not per day. In this sense, I would agree with the corn industry that sugar is sugar. Quantity matters. But there are some important differences.
2. HFCS and cane sugar are NOT biochemically identical or processed the same way by the body. High fructose corn syrup is an industrial food product and far from “natural” or a naturally occurring substance. It is extracted from corn stalks through a process so secret that Archer Daniels Midland and Carghill would not allow the investigative journalist Michael Pollan to observe it for his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma. HFCS is cheaper than sugar because of the government farm bill corn subsidies. Products with HFCS are sweeter and cheaper than products made with cane sugar. This allowed for the average soda size to balloon from 8 ounces to 20 ounces with little financial costs to manufacturers but great human costs of increased obesity, diabetes, and chronic disease. Since there is there is no chemical bond between them, no digestion is required so they are more rapidly absorbed into your bloodstream. Fructose goes right to the liver and triggers lipogenesis(the production of fats like triglycerides and cholesterol) this is why it is the major cause of liver damage in this country and causes a condition called “fatty liver” which affects 70 million people. The rapidly absorbed glucose triggers big spikes in insulin–our body’s major fat storage hormone. Both these features of HFCS lead to increased metabolic disturbances that drive increases in appetite, weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, dementia, and more.
3. HFCS contains contaminants including mercury that are not regulated or measured by the FDA. An FDA researcher asked corn producers to ship a barrel of high fructose corn syrup in order to test for contaminants. Her repeated requests were refused until she claimed she represented a newly created soft drink company. She was then promptly shipped a big vat of HFCS that was used as part of the study that showed that HFCS often contains toxic levels of mercury because of chlor-alkali products used in its manufacturing. Poisoned sugar is certainly not “natural”. When HFCS is run through a chemical analyzer or a chromatograph, strange chemical peaks show up that are not glucose or fructose. What are they? Who knows? This certainly calls into question the purity of this processed form of super sugar. The exact nature, effects, and toxicity of these funny compounds have not been fully explained, but shouldn’t we be protected from the presence of untested chemical compounds in our food supply, especially when the contaminated food product comprises up to 15-20 percent of the average American’s daily calorie intake?
4. HFCS is almost always a marker of poor-quality, nutrient-poor disease-creating industrial food products or “food-like substances”. The last reason to avoid products that contain HFCS is that they are a marker for poor-quality, nutritionally-depleted, processed industrial food full of empty calories and artificial ingredients. If you find “high fructose corn syrup” on the label you can be sure it is not a whole, real, fresh food full of fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and antioxidants. Stay away if you want to stay healthy. We still must reduce our overall consumption of sugar, but with this one simple dietary change you can radically reduce your health risks and improve your health.While debate may rage about the biochemistry and physiology of cane sugar vs corn sugar, this is in fact beside the point (despite the finer points of my scientific analysis above). The conversation has been diverted to a simple assertion that cane sugar and corn sugar are not different.
My goal here is not tell you what to eat, buy or even change your mind. What I want is you to be more aware of what is happening around you, what you eat and put into your body, which is your temple, and deserve to be treated as such.