Tag Archives: World Health Organization

The Issues Around High Fructose Corn Syrup

Being that I am now covering maize (hence referred to as corn in this post), I figured it was the prefect time to address certain issues surrounding High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS).

For those of you who need to catch up on your HFCS knowledge, HFCS is a modified form of corn syrup that has an increased level of fructose. Ordinary corn syrup is treated with the enzyme glucose isomerase which converts glucose to fructose . Because fructose is much sweeter than glucose, the overall sweetness of the syrup is increased and it becomes a more useful substitute in food processing for sugar or invert sugar syrups. It has since become a very popular way in which food producers sweeten many, many products. It is used so extensively for three reasons:

  • 1. It’s cheap.
  • 2. It’s sweeter than plain sugar.
  • 3. In acidic mixtures, such as many soft drinks, sucrose will chemically decompose (hydrolyze) over a period of time. This does not occur with HFCS.

The reason it has gotten so much bad press of late is often twofold -

  • - U.S. consumption of HFCS rose 1,000 percent between 1970 and 1990. Obesity has also increased during that time. Ergo, there is a causality between HFCS and Obesity.
  • - HFCS does not stimulate the release of the appetite-regulating hormone leptin. And that may keep you reaching for more soda or food containing HFCS.

I won’t address the first point, because the logic is dubious at best. Exercise has also decreased during that same period of time, so to blame HFCS exclusively is just sloppy logic.

However, there may be something to the second point. From a recent Washington Post article:

Fructose is absorbed differently” than other sugars, says (George A.) Bray (a former director of Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge) “It doesn’t register in the body metabolically the same way that glucose does.”

For example, consumption of glucose kicks off a cascade of biochemical reactions. It increases production of insulin by the pancreas, which enables sugar in the blood to be transported into cells, where it can be used for energy. It increases production of leptin, a hormone that helps regulate appetite and fat storage, and it suppresses production of another hormone made by the stomach, ghrelin, that helps regulate food intake. It has been theorized that when ghrelin levels drop, as they do after eating carbohydrates composed of glucose, hunger declines.

Fructose is a different story. It “appears to behave more like fat with respect to the hormones involved in body weight regulation,” explains Peter Havel, associate professor of nutrition at the University of California, Davis. “Fructose doesn’t stimulate insulin secretion. It doesn’t increase leptin production or suppress production of ghrelin. That suggests that consuming a lot of fructose, like consuming too much fat, could contribute to weight gain.” Whether it actually does do this is not known “because the studies have not been conducted,” said Havel.

Others disagree with this statement. Curt Mercadante, director of communications of the Corn Refiners Association, Inc recently stated that “… both HFCS and sugar are made up of almost a 50/50 blend of fructose and glucose. Both products are also only 4 calories per gram and about equally as sweet. As such, there is no evidence to suggest the dietary impact of consuming HFCS is any different than the dietary impact of consuming sugar.”

But there is a difference between sugar and HFCS. Sugar is a naturally occurring substance. The glucose and fructose that make up sugar are comprised of bonded molecules. HFCS, a man-made product, is comprised unbonded molecules. Stating that HFCS is the same as sugar is the same as saying that cake batter is the same as cake.

Not only this, but as Roger Grace of Metropolitan News has noted, HFCS has been linked to some abnormal heart conditions, could mess up the magnesium balance in the body, and may lead to Irritable Bowel Syndrome. To top this all off, London researcher P.A. Mayes believes that high fructose consumption causes the liver to release an enzyme called PDH that instructs the body to burn sugar instead of fat.

None of these items, if true, are anything to be proud of. But admittedly, more research needs to be done.

Regardless of the issues surrounding HFCS, if you are worried about your weight, you should consider the following:

First and foremost, exercise. Sitting around doing nothing means you burn neither sugar nor fat. This is not an optimal state to be in.

Secondly, restrict sugar intake no matter what kind it is. According to the World Health Organization, no more than 10 percent of your daily calories should come from added sugars. If you’re eating a 2,000-calorie diet, then consume no more than 200 calories of added sugar per day—which can work out to a 16.9-ounce soda or three ounces of plain M&Ms. Or consider it this way: A trip to the movies can be devastating to your sugar intake.

HFCS is still rather new to our palate, having only been introduced to us in 1966. We still don’t know what, if anything, it does to our bodies long-term. To presume it’s the only cause of obesity is folly, to presume it has nothing to do with obesity is simply foolish.