Diet Facts: High-Fructose Corn Syrup vs. Sugar

High fructose corn syrup is not a popular term; websites, television spots and newspaper articles are all blasting it. What’s behind all the hype? What are the facts about high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)?

The Main Difference

Cane sugar (“regular” sugar) grows in fields and is then harvested. But, you don’t grow HFCS – it’s created in a lab. It is created by changing the sugar found in cornstarch (called glucose) to another form of sugar called fructose. Why not just use regular sugar? Well, HFCS is less expensive. And, it has a longer shelf life. These two facts made it attractive to food manufacturers, who began using it widely about thirty years ago.

Not Natural = Bad?

Researchers are divided on whether the manufactured nature of HFCS makes it less healthy than regular sugar. Some feel that sugar is sugar, regardless of its origin. That is true from a calorie standpoint:  a teaspoon of HFCS has the same amount of calories as a teaspoon of table sugar. Switching from HFCS to sugar will not result in a lower caloric intake.

However, several researchers suspect that the non-natural composition of HFCS confuses the body when it tries to metabolize the HFCS. The molecular structure of HFCS is more “free” than that of regular sugar, and the intestines need to do less work in breaking it down. This may lead to problems with the liver and kidneys, and may contribute to raising of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels and triglycerides, while lowering HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels.

Too Much Sugar = Too Much Weight

Regardless of whether you eat regular sugar or HFCS, you will gain weight if you overeat them. Some researchers suspect that HFCS is a low-satiety food, meaning that it doesn’t trigger your brain that you are full even after you have eaten a lot of it. This results in overeating.

You may want to experiment and eat a food you normally eat that contains HFCS for a week. Then, try eating a HFCS-free version for a week. Do you feel less full after eating the version with HFCS? If so, switch to the type containing regular sugar.

Researchers are united in their belief that Americans are eating too much sugar, no matter its form. If you’re dieting, sugar should be one of the first foods you try to reduce in your diet.

What to Do?

Dieters have plenty of decisions to make. Here are some recommendations if you would like to reduce foods containing high fructose corn syrup from your diet:

  • Try reducing your processed food consumption. This is difficult, because so many foods in the grocery store are processed. Try shopping for the majority of your groceries around the perimeter of the store (produce sections) rather than in the center, which tends to be mostly boxed, processed foods.
  • Watch your drinks: reduce or eliminate pop, drink fresh or 100% juice fruit juices. Be wary of “fruit drinks;” they may contain 10% (or even less) fruit juice.

Your diet will be more successful if you make the extra effort to reduce the sugars (HFCS and regular) you are eating!


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