The Good and Bad of High Fructose Corn Syrup

Many of you may know that I gave up high fructose corn syrup, HFCS, as my new year’s resolution. I felt that my body doesn’t need this overly processed sweetener to function, so why shouldn’t I give it up. There are many debates on the health concerns and as far as I can tell, there is nothing definitive linking HFCS to health issues and there are arguments on both sides arguing for and against HFCS. At the same time, why should one use a processed sweetener when there’s real sugar as an alternative?

So let’s start at the basics, what is HFCS? Chemically, HFCS is similar to sugar, and is sometimes referred to as corn sugar. It’s composed of fructose and glucose, the same ingredients as in sugar, honey, and maple syrup.  HFCS is the most common sweetener in sodas and processed foods; based on my own personal experience, I find it hard to read an ingredient label without seeing HFCS listed as one of the first 2 ingredients, it’s in everything – bread, salad dressing, tomato sauce, even vitamins. HFCS has the same amount of calories as sugar and is processed by the body in the same fashion, so if you weren’t paying attention, you wouldn’t really notice a difference.

So what makes it different from sugar then? It’s all in the processing. You can’t just squeeze corn kernels to get the syrup. Instead, HFCS is made through a process that alters corn’s naturally occurring starch molecules. An enzymatic process converts some of the glucose into fructose to produce the desired sweetness. In laymen’s terms, it’s highly processed, and as far from natural as you can get. And HFCS was invented in the 1960s, so the long term effects of this sweetener have yet to be determined. There’s nothing that states that eating HFCS in moderation is bad for you. But the problem lies in the fact that HFCS is prevalent in everything; so who knows how much you are actually consuming. There are countless arguments that the predominance of HFCS is what is adding to the increasing obesity rate in the US. We know that sugar can cause weight gain and obesity, but you know what products have sugar in it and can control what you eat. HFCS is in almost everything we consume, so it’s a little tougher to cut out certain foods when you don’t pay attention to the fine print on the ingredient label. So why is it so prevalent in everything? HFCS is cheaper in the US than sugar, and for mass food manufacturers, cheaper supplies means more profit. Corn is a subsidized product in the US and because of the tariffs on sugar, it makes corn sugar the more appealing substitute.

Being a proponent for eating natural and organic foods, it’s hard for me to make a conscious decision to promote HFCS. I’d rather have sugar than some overly processed corn product. So what do I want you to take away from this, just be aware of the ingredient labels and know what you are ingesting. Knowledge is power, as the saying goes.

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