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Have you seen high-fructose corn syrup on the ingredient lists for your favorite foods? Learn what its impact can be on your weight and health.
Take a peek at almost any nutrition label for soda, fruit juice, cookies or candy. You are likely to see high-fructose corn syrup among the ingredients. It is also likely to be lurking in your favorite bread, pasta sauce and breakfast cereal.
These days, high-fructose corn syrup is everywhere. A popular sweetener, it is preferred by food companies because it mixes well in many foods and drinks. It is also cheap to produce, sweet and easy to store. But is it good for you?
The origin of high-fructose corn syrup
At one time, table sugar was the sweetener of choice. Table sugar (or sucrose) is made up equally of two sugar molecules: glucose and fructose. Fructose is the sweeter of the two.
Food manufacturers, looking for a cheaper replacement for sugar, turned to corn syrup. The problem was that corn syrup (made from cornstarch) only contains glucose. Without the fructose, it is not as sweet as sugar. After much experimenting, scientists finally perfected the process of converting about half of the glucose to fructose.
The result was "high-fructose" corn syrup, earning the name only because regular corn syrup has no fructose. Many people are surprised to learn that high-fructose corn syrup has about the same ratio of glucose and fructose as regular table sugar.
Effects on health and weight
There has been a lot of controversy in recent years about the effect of high-fructose corn syrup on health. The concerns relate mostly to obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
- Americans seemed to get heavier at the same time the sweetener was introduced into the food supply, in the late 1960s.
- Other theories claim that the fructose in this sweetener is metabolized differently than other fructose-containing sweeteners. It may be more readily converted to fat by your liver than sucrose.
- Research is not conclusive, though. There is no proof that high-fructose corn syrup has any unique effect on human appetite, food intake or obesity compared to other sweeteners.
Chronic medical conditions
- Some animal studies have shown a link between increased high-fructose corn syrup and diabetes and heart disease.
- Fructose raised insulin levels, triglycerides and blood pressure in some animal studies.
- Links between fructose corn syrup and chronic medical conditions are not as clear in human studies.
Reducing intake of all sugar is key
The reality is that Americans have a sweet tooth. In response, food companies came up with high-fructose corn syrup to replace sugar in many common foods and drinks. So, to cut back on sugar, you need to:
- Read labels carefully. Whether the ingredients list sucrose, dextrose, fructose, brown sugar, molasses or honey, they all have the same calories.
- Limit added sugars to about 10 to 12 teaspoons a day. A 20-ounce soda has more than 15 teaspoons! Choose fresh fruit instead of fruit juices; fruit canned in its own juices instead of heavy syrup; water, low-fat milk or seltzer instead of soda.
- Choose whole foods more often. Choose fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and lean proteins for the bulk of your diet. Limit processed and junk foods. This will naturally cut back on sources of added sugars.
So what's the bottom line? Whether high-fructose corn syrup is more harmful to your health than table sugar is still unknown. In the meantime, it's important to limit your consumption of all sugars, no matter the source.