Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Truth About High Fructose Corn Syrup

High fructose corn syrup or HFCS is a clear liquid made from cornstarch.  Ever since it was introduced to the North American marketplace, the statistics on obesity have skyrocketed.  As a food product that is found in processed foods all over the world, HFCS has a direct relationship to other health issues as well, such as heart disease and diabetes. 

Where It Lurks
HFCS is used not only to sweeten, but also to keep foods moist and seemingly fresh.  For this reason it is prevalent in a variety of foods that you may not even suspect, such as bread and muffins. Once you start reading packaging labels carefully you will see that HFCS is in almost every commercial food product out there.  Condiments such as ketchup, relish, BBQ sauce, and mayonnaise contain HFCS, even many that claim to be low in fat.  Cookies, candy bars, breakfast cereals, fruit flavored and frozen yogurt, and canned soups are some other culprits.  And then of course, there are the soft drinks.  One 12-ounce can of cola contains 13 tablespoons (not teaspoons!) of sugar, most of which is fructose derived from corn syrup.

The Dangers
High fructose corn syrup is a very insidious ingredient.  Unlike table sugar it does not cause the pancreas to create insulin, which controls a substance called leptin.  Leptin is responsible for sending messages to the brain letting it know when the body feels full, which helps us stop eating.  Without this control, we never feel satisfied. And because we are tricked into thinking we are still hungry, we fall into a cycle of eating more of the seductive HFCS-filled foods, avoiding those that contain the nutrients we need to support our immune system. 

Whereas the simple sugar, or monosaccharide glucose, is used by the body to create energy, fructose does not.  Though it is also a monosaccharide, by not stimulating insulin secretion or requiring its transport as other carbohydrates do, fructose is not metabolized like normal carbohydrates are, making it a substance that generally leads to weight gain. Thus with an excess of these HFCS-containing processed foods in our system, we get fatter. People with diabetes as well as those who tend towards high blood sugar can be adversely affected if too much HFCS is consumed as too high a concentration makes it challenging to control blood glucose and insulin levels.
Studies on HFCS
In a research study on high fructose corn syrup done at Princeton University, rats were used to test its effects. The rats consuming HFCS gained much more weight than those eating generic table sugar, even when the overall caloric intake was the same.  Triglyceride levels in the rats eating foods with HFCS rose alarmingly over a period of 6 months, as opposed to those eating regular rat chow. As abnormal weight gain increased in the HFCS rats, fat deposits were located most specifically around the stomach area, with male rats gaining more weight than females. All of these rats gained 48% more weight than those on conventional rat food.

In a study reported in the October 2002 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, humans ingesting over 28% of their total calorie intake from sucrose, which is made up of 50% fructose, had more added fat and higher blood pressure after 10 weeks as compared to those using other types of sweeteners.

Why is HFCS so prevalent?
High fructose corn syrup has become ever popular with manufacturers of processed foods because it is the cheapest sweetener on the market.  And because it takes a very small amount to sweeten any product, a tiny bit goes a long way. Additionally, there is now an over-abundance of corn due to government subsidies and market pressure.  HFCS is also very easy to transport.

How to Avoid HFCS
The best way to avoid consuming high fructose corn syrup is to do as much shopping in health food stores. There you can find cane or non-high fructose corn syrup if you want or need it in any of your recipes.  When in regular grocery stores, look carefully at the labels.  If HFCS or modified cornstarch is within the first five ingredients, don’t buy the product.  Avoid all cola drinks, period.  Cook your own meals rather than eating out in restaurants as most commercial restaurants reheat pre-packaged foods that contain HFCS to increase their shelf life. When you do eat out, support the small owners who create cuisine with care and pride, using the best ingredients they can find.

Once you reduce your HFCS levels, you will see a marked difference in your energy as well as your weight.  As you get farther away from foods containing high fructose corn syrup, your body will crave nutritious foods that fill you up in the right way and cater to optimum health.

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