Is High Fructose Corn Syrup Good or Bad for You?
There is a raging debate in the nutrition industry around high fructose corn syrup and whether it is good or bad for you. This debate has become so intense that the Corn Refiners Association has taken steps to defend this common ingredient in most processed foods by releasing a national ad campaign. On one side of the debate are those who feel that high fructose corn syrup is as bad for you as trans fats and should be eliminated from our diet. On the other side are those who say that this ingredient is the same as sugar and shouldn’t be treated any differently.
To help bring this debate into proper focus so that you can make an educated decision I’ve segmented this article into the following sections: History & Composition, Potential Health Challenges, and The Verdict!
History & Composition!
Looking at the history and composition of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is important. One of the arguments made by the Corn Refiners Association is that HFCS is the same as sugar. According to Audrea Erickson, president of the Corn Refiners Association, “We want to correct the record. Being led to believe that consuming sugar is better than high fructose corn syrup is not based on fact.” So, let’s examine the facts.
Table sugar or sucrose is a common ingredient for sweetening foods. As the soda and processed food industry took off in the 60’s and 70’s, and as the cost of sugar increased, the industry looked for ways to design a sweetener that could mimic the profile of sucrose. Sucrose is a simple sugar that contains one molecule of glucose attached to one molecule of fructose to give it a 50/50 composition.
In 1970 HFCS-42 was created from milling corn, processing that starch into corn syrup and then adding enzymes to convert it into fructose. It was then blended back with glucose to get the desired fructose-glucose blend, which in HFCS-42 was 42% fructose and 58% glucose. Because glucose and corn syrup are not as sweet as sucrose the industry continue to refine HFCS-42. By the late 1970’s HFCS-55 was developed and contained a blend of 55% fructose and 45% glucose. The HFCS-55 blend has a sweetness profile similar to sucrose and has pretty much remained the standard for the industry.
Even though the creation of high fructose corn syrup is a 12 step process it’s popular because it:
- Costs less than sucrose.
- Has a sweetness equivalent to invert liquid sugar.
- Helps control microbiological growth.
- Retains moisture to prevent drying out.
- Blends easily with other sweeteners, acids, and flavorings.
- Provides controllable substrate for browning and Maiillard reaction.
Even the FDA gave its approval and made the following statement in 1983: “The agency has concluded that high fructose corn syrup is as safe for use in food as sucrose, corn sugar, corn syrup and invert sugar.”
According to the FDA and the Corn Refiners Association, high fructose corn syrup is as safe as table sugar. Well, I want you to note two important details that I believe are significant and overlooked:
- HFCS provides a controllable substrate for browning and Maiillard reaction.
- HFCS’s composition is 55% fructose to 45% glucose.
Keep these two items in mind as we look at the potential health challenges.
Potential Health Challenges!
The debate about the potential health challenges of high fructose corn syrup has mainly centered on the overweight/obesity issues facing the American public. While this is important there are other metabolic challenges this article will address.
To be able to properly evaluate this issue we need to understand how fructose and glucose affect your body. Both are simple sugars but your body metabolizes them differently. Glucose is your body’s primary source of energy. It is used by your cells to create ATP which is readily “burned” by your cells’ mitochondria to provide the energy needed to maintain cell life. When excess glucose is present, the liver can store it as a carbohydrate for later conversion to energy.
Fructose is often called “fruit sugar” because it is the primary carbohydrate in most fruits. However, fructose is metabolized differently. Fructose does not stimulate insulin secretion and doesn’t require insulin to be transported into the cells. In the liver this causes it to be rapidly metabolized leading to an increase in triglycerides and fat storage in the liver. This doesn’t mean that fructose can’t be used for energy. However, it is a more complex process and creates the potential for some serious health issues such as:
- Overweight/Obesity – Critics of high fructose corn syrup say that it contributes to weight gain while tricking your body into wanting more to eat. On the other hand Dr. James M. Rippe, a cardiologist and founder of the Rippe Lifestyle Institute, believes there is no link between high fructose corn syrup and obesity. So who’s right?
- If you look at calories alone both table sugar/sucrose and HFCS contain four calories per gram. They are both equal in the amount of calories they bring into your body.
- In 2004, researchers at Louisiana State University and University of North Carolina published a paper that has become part of this overweight/obesity debate. Their theory was that high fructose corn syrup in beverages could play a significant role in the obesity epidemic. Their research showed that from 1970 to 1990 there was a 1,000 percent increase in HFCS consumption and that this increased consumption directly correlated with the rise in obesity rates.
- However, a small study that was published in the July 2007 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found no difference between soda sweetened with sugar and soda sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. The University of Washington researchers tested 37 men and women on subsequent hunger, thirst, and satiety after drinking cola with sucrose versus cola with HFCS. They found no difference between the two sweetened sodas as it applied to the satiety factor 20 minutes later and the number of calories consumed in their next meal.
- These two studies are reflective of the debate. One correlates HFCS consumption with obesity and the other shows no difference between the two regarding appetite. When it comes to weight gain there are two basic issues: caloric intake and caloric expenditure. Caloric intake represents the calories you bring into your body through the food and beverages you consume. Caloric expenditure represents the calories your body burns up through exercise, your normal daily activities, and the energy your body needs to survive.
- Over the last 50 years the general trend for most people has been an increase in our average daily caloric consumption while at the same time there has been a steady decrease in exercise and energy output. During this same 50 year period soft drink consumption has increased by a factor of 5. Soda is now the leading source of refined sugars in the American diet. Where as water used to be the beverage of choice with zero calories now it is soda at an average of 120 calories per serving!
- In the battle of the bulge both sugar and high fructose corn syrup are equal in their ability to affect your weight with empty calories.
- Diabetes – There has also been an epidemic increase in type II diabetes in the general population. The Corn Refiners Association would like you to think that HFCS doesn’t have any more of a role in this than sugar. Like their national ad campaign says, “Like sugar, it’s fine in moderation.”
- Researchers from Rutgers University made a recent presentation at the American Chemical Society’s annual meeting. They tested 11 soft drinks sweetened with high fructose corn syrup and detected high levels of reactive carbonyls that are associated with diabetics. Reactive carbonyls have been linked to tissue damage. For those sodas sweetened with sucrose there was no detection of reactive carbonyls.
- As I mentioned earlier, fructose does not require insulin to be transported into your cells and it does not stimulate insulin secretion. Since glucose requires insulin one might think that this would be beneficial especially for diabetics. Not true! Fructose disturbs glucose metabolism leading to metabolic disturbances that underlie the induction of insulin resistance which is a hallmark of type II diabetes.
- Insulin is a hormone that also controls the release of another hormone called leptin. Few people have heard of leptin but it is a critical hormone in weight management. The leptin hormone is secreted by fat cells and has two basic functions. First, it is used by your body to signal your brain that enough food has been ingested which in turn shuts down appetite. Second, it facilitates the process of breaking down stored triglycerides in your fat cells into free fatty acids so that they can be utilized for energy production.
- A diet high in fructose interferes with insulin, which reduces leptin while stimulating fat storage. To make matters worse, as people accumulate excess fat cells, a protein called C-reactive protein is released that binds to the leptin in the bloodstream to impair it from performing its two primary functions. Researchers now regard this loss of leptin sensitivity as a major factor in age-associated weight gain.
- A very comprehensive ecological correlation study was published in 2004 that compared the relationship between the consumption of refined carbohydrates and the prevalence of type II diabetes. This study showed, even after controlling for total energy intake from other foods such as fats and proteins, an increase in high fructose corn syrup and a decrease in fiber intake positively correlated with an increase in type II diabetes.
- High Blood Pressure – Excess fructose may contribute to hypertension. The October 2003 issue of Cardiovascular Research published an article that showed how fructose inhibited a key enzyme called endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS). The endothelial cells that line your blood vessels are critical for proper cardiovascular health. These cells utilize the eNOS enzyme to produce nitric oxide which is a major factor in preventing high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and erectile dysfunction.
- Atherosclerosis – Because fructose is rapidly converted to fat by the liver it raises triglyceride levels, which is an independent risk factor for coronary heart disease. Fructose also decreases high density lipoproteins (HDL) which is responsible for carrying cholesterol back to the liver for elimination. The net effect of this is damage to the intercellular junctions between the endothelial cells allowing for deposits to build up. This causes the smooth and flexible lining of your blood vessels to become rough and hard. As this process continues over time, the deposits or plaques become larger which narrows the interior of the blood vessels making it harder for blood to pass through. This can affect your blood pressure as well as increase your risk for blood clots leading to either a stroke or heart attack.
- Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease – What was once a rare disease now affects approximately 20-30% of the adult population! A 2008 study out of the University of Florida, Gainesville, determined that fructose consumption in patients with established non-alcoholic fatty liver disease was about two to three times higher than the control subjects. This would make sense since the liver converts fructose into triglycerides and stores this as fat in the liver where as glucose is stored as carbohydrate in the liver.
- Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs) – Fructose encourages the formations of Advanced Glycation End products or AGEs. AGEs are now considered to be one of the primary factors in aging and degenerative diseases. Your structural proteins, especially collagen, are damaged by a process known as glycation. This process is an uncontrolled, non-enzymatic reaction between proteins and sugars to significantly alter the structure and function of proteins. Excess sugar in the main cause of this occurrence, but laboratory results have shown that the rate of fructose/protein cross-linking is 10 times greater than the linkage that occurs from glucose.
- AGEs encourage inflammation and oxidative stress and are strongly associated with degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, type II diabetes, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, stroke, kidney disorders, visual impairment, heart disease, and skin disorders.
- Uric Acid Elevation, Gout, and Kidney Stones – A 2008 published study by Canadian researchers clearly showed that high fructose beverages are associated with elevated blood levels of uric acid. This substantially increases the risk for gout. Their data came from population studies of 15,000 adult Americans who participated in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and from a British study that followed 46,000 men for 12 years.
- A 2008 study from the Harvard Medical School came to the following conclusion: “Our study suggests that fructose intake is independently associated with an increased risk of incident kidney stones.”
In this debate about the potential health challenges surrounding the consumption of high fructose corn syrup, the Corn Refiners Association and the FDA would like us to believe that HFCS and sucrose are safe in moderate consumption, with no real differences between the two in how they affect the body. While this might be true regarding caloric intake and how it affects weight management there are other significant health challenges that need to be addressed.
Sucrose and high fructose corn syrup are not the same. Remember that sucrose (table sugar) is 50% fructose and 50% glucose. HFCS-55 is 55% fructose and 45% glucose. While a 5% change in the amount of fructose may not seem significant in the laboratory, it is in real life.
According to the Center of Science in the Public Interest the average American consumed 56 pounds of HFCS in 2007 with soda being the single biggest source. If this were 56 pounds of sucrose than the intake of fructose would represent 28 pounds. Since this is 56 pounds of high fructose corn syrup then the intake of fructose is 30.8 pounds. That represents an extra 2.8 pounds of fructose per year.
Remember that fructose is metabolized differently than glucose. In the liver it is rapidly metabolized to significantly increase triglycerides and fat storage. The extra 2.8 pounds of fructose is equal to 1271 grams. At 4 calories per gram this represents 5084 calories. There are 3500 calories in a pound of fat. This extra 2.8 pounds of fructose has the energy equivalent of 1.45 pounds of fat. Continuing a diet high in HFCS, this extra fructose represents 14.5 pound of potential fat over a 10 year period. Potential extra fat that could also directly affect your liver!
Extra fructose also affects your body’s ability to produce insulin. This in turn reduces the body’s ability to manufacturer the leptin hormone to compound your body’s ability to control its weight and fat stores.
The extra fructose directly affects your endothelial cells by inhibiting the eNOS enzyme and indirectly by damaging the endothelial cells thru fatty deposits. All this lowers your body’s ability to produce nitric oxide which is critical for proper blood pressure and good cardiovascular and sexual health. Extra fructose also affects your uric acid levels leaving you more susceptible to gout and kidney stones.
Finally, this extra fructose also has a significant impact on the formation of Advanced Glycation End products (AGEs). Remember how food manufacturers liked HFCS because it provides a controllable substrate for browning and Maiillard reaction. This process of cooking proteins with sugars to create flavor also creates external AGEs that your body absorbs when you consume their product. To compound this, excess fructose will cross-link with proteins at 10 times a higher rate than glucose. That extra 2.8 pounds of fructose has an enormous potential for creating large amounts of AGEs that actually age your body and significantly contribute to a wide range of degenerative diseases.
Both sugar and high fructose corn syrup have the potential to create health problems especially when consumed in excess. My suggestion would be to reduce the consumption of both and when able, eliminate high fructose corn syrup from your diet. Just the simple act of replacing soft drinks with water will significantly reduce your intake of damaging sugars. Read product labels. If you find high fructose corn syrup listed as one of the first 5 ingredients, than find an alternative product. More and more manufacturers are replacing HFCS in their products. Consider using the natural non-caloric stevia extract as a replacement sweetener. The more you reduce sugar and high fructose corn syrup from your diet the more your body will thank you.
Until next time, may we both age youthfully!
P.S. I would recommend the following articles to help you properly nourish your cells as you incorporate effective anti aging solutions in your wellness program:
The Best Anti Aging Advice is Grounded in The 1% Solution
Water, is it the Best Ingredient for Slowing Down the Aging Process?
The Dark Cola Drink Verses Water!
How Do Food, Metabolic, and Digestive Enzymes Factor in an Anti Aging Strategy?
These 5 Steps To Better Sleep Can Positively Affect Your Health!
The Acid Alkaline Balance: Does Your Body’s pH Cause Cancer and Other Diseases? Part 1
The Acid Alkaline Balance: Does Your Body’s pH Cause Cancer and Other Diseases? Part 2
How Advanced Glycation End Products Cause You to AGE!
8 Dangers of Human Growth Hormone!
Return from High Fructose Corn Syrup to Anti Aging Solutions
Return from High Fructose Corn Syrup to Aging No More (Home Page)
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