May 12, 2010 Find the Facts: The sweet science behind high fructose corn syrup
I attended a great lecture about High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
at the Pennsylvania Dietetic Association Annual Meeting in April. Dr. Kristine
Clark, from Penn State, provided an excellent discussion about the science
behind HFCS, and confirmed all of my thoughts on the substance: There’s nothing
wrong with it.
HFCS closely resembles sucrose (table sugar), appears to
have no scientific link to causing obesity, and can be part of a diet in moderation,
just as other sweeteners (which, should be a very small part of any diet).
I have never bought into the media hype behind HFCS and it’s
link to obesity and other ailments, as it is just illogical to assume that this
one substance, especially this one, directly relates to our weight problem. In
some cases, health advocacy groups or individuals want to blame something as the cause for every health crisis we face as a nation.
So why not? HFCS did appear in the mass food market in the early 1980s, a time
when the nation was fairly normal weight, but consider the facts.
The research has shown that HFCS and
sucrose have similar metabolic responses in healthy weight women.Studies have shown no significant
difference in how HFCS affects plasma glucose, insulin, or appetite hormones (ghrelin,
leptin). So once sucrose and HFCS are absorbed into the bloodstream they
deliver the same sugars, at the same rations, to the same tissues, within the
same time frame.
So let’s take a look at some additional facts:
The composition of HFCS is not much different
than table sugar
Compositionally, HFCS 55 (the type used in our
food supply) is 55% fructose, and 42% glucose (the other 3% is ‘other’ sugars,
Sucrose (cane sugar, or ‘table sugar’) is 50%
fructose and 50% glucose
So you see, HFCS only has 5% more fructose than regular
table sugar, which comes from sugar cane, and has been consumed by humans for
hundreds of years. Yet the public seems to be wary of High Fructose Corn Syrup,
assuming it must be high in fructose because of the name; but in fact, HFCS is
not all that “high” in fructose.
More interesting, many of the
studies done that show adverse side affects on weight were done on rats
predisposed to obesity, and were done with high doses of pure fructose.
Fructose and High Fructose Corn Syrup are chemically two different things. Pure
fructose in the amounts provided in these studies, is not present in the human
diet, although we eat foods that contain larger amounts of fructose (fruit).
Here’s an example: Agave nectar
concentrate, recently being touted as a ‘health food’ (unfounded), is 74%
fructose, as is pear juice concentrate. Other foods that are in the same fructose
range (42-55%) as HFCS: Almonds, apricots, bananas, blackberries, blueberries, broccoli,
Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cantaloupe, carrots, cashews, cherries, Clementines,
sweet corn, cucumbers, currants, dates, figs, filberts,
Grapefruit, grapes, hazelnuts, honeydew,
melon, kiwi fruit, lentils, lettuce, lime juice, macadamias, nectarines, sweet
onions, navel oranges, peaches, peanuts, peas pecans, sweet peppers,
persimmons, pineapple, pistachios, raisins, summer squash, strawberries, sweet
potatoes, tomatoes, walnuts, cooked wild rice. Should you stop eating fruits,
vegetables and nuts because of their fructose content? Of course you should
Now, before I go on,
hear this loud and clear: I do not advocate eating high sugar foods with
abandon, I simply do not see a significant difference in the source of sugar,
be it HFCS or table sugar.
Now then, from a food-processing standpoint, HFCS has many
advantages. The properties of HFCS are attractive to the food industry. HFCS is
more stable, delivers a sweetness that is comparable to sucrose, retains
moisture, resists crystallization, and has a lower freezing point. Sure you may
be thinking, “well, we shouldn’t use processed foods”, but there are many that
are quite convenient, or specialized. Let’s look at sports drinks. Do you think
athletes will give them up any time soon? I don’t, and I know they play a key
role in hydrating and replacing electrolytes. HFCS has been used in these
products because not only does it provide sweetness and needed carbohydrate,
but it allows the product to hold its color, and what young athlete doesn’t
have his or her favorite sports drink color? Of course the color of these
products are important to the marketing of them. One company has made the
switch to sucrose, due to public demand, but the public may not be pleased to
see their favorite sports drinks fading colors.
Many companies are quietly replacing the HFCS with sucrose
(table sugar) and calling it “natural”, but the point is: you shouldn’t consume
too much of any added sugar. Period. There is no question, that as a country,
we are consuming too much (an average of 605 calories more a day compared to
1970, but only 52 calories of that is from added sugars). However, which
sweetener you consume does not seem to have any significant impact on your body
weight or health, as long as it’s not too much.
Find the facts before you believe the hype, and keep it
Rust is a licensed, registered dietitian and
nutrition coach, a licensed
provider for Real Living Nutrition Services® and the author of The Calorie
Counter for Dummies®. You can order the book right here at the website hompage.