High-Fructose Corn Syrup: How Bad Is It?

You see it everywhere: high fructose corn syrup. You’ll find it not just in snack cakes and sweet treats. Soups, whole wheat bread, spaghetti sauce and yogurt are just some of the common “healthy” products that contain it. Here we look at what HFCS is, and what it means to your health.

What Is HFCS?

High fructose corn syrup is a corn-based liquid sweetener used in large quantities in the United States. It is made by artificially modifying the sugar in cornstarch from a glucose to a fructose. It is preferred by large-scale food manufacturers for most pre-packaged foods and drinks. This is because it is much cheaper to produce than sugar, easy to transport, and using it increases the shelf life of food. A unit of HFCS has the same amount of calories as an equal unit of real sugar. But, there is much controversy as to whether or not it is as healthy as natural sugar.

HFCS and Obesity

Many studies have been performed trying to discover if HFCS increases your chances of obesity. Despite having the same caloric content as sugar, about 4 calories a gram, some studies show that HFCS is more fattening. Many opponents of HFCS point out the fact that America’s meteoric rise in obesity almost precisely parallels the widespread introduction of HFCS to the American diet in the 1970’s. However, supporters of HFCS, including both the soft drink and corn industy, have produced many published, peer reviewed studies showing HFCS does not increase obesity more than sugar. But there are many studies suggesting it does. 

One study showed that while rats who ate HFCS didn’t gain more weight than control rats while on a regular diet, the HFCS rats did gain more weight than the control rats when switched to a high fat diet. Other studies suggest fructose suppresses the feeling of fullness, causing people to eat and drink more.

HFCS and Taste

It isn’t uncommon to find a display of bottled Coca-Cola at a high end grocery store or eatery with the words “Imported Mexican Coke” accompanying it. The appeal here being that Coke sold in Mexico still uses real sugar as a sweetener. And the difference in taste is noticeable to many fans of Coke. If you have noticed a difference in the taste of your favorite childhood pre packaged snacks, it may be the including of HFCS.

Many people can taste the difference between products made with cane sugar, and those made through the genetic-modification process that produces HFCS. Developing a taste for real sugar can have a helpful effect on your health. Real-sugar versions of all your favorite food products are usually available at your local co-op or health food store. They will likely sell in smaller quantities for a bigger price, If you prefer the real sugar taste, choosing it can result in bringing quality instead of quantity into your home. This can result in a lower, healthier calorie intake.

It can be distressing to not know if a food is unhealthy for you. High fructose corn syrup is controversial. There is scientific evidence to support both opinions, that HFCS is no worse than sugar, and the other side, that it is. If you are health conscious, you will most likely want to err on the side of safety. So think moderation. You can remove a great deal of HFCS form your diet just by checking labels before your buy. But sometimes, you’re just going to want that Twinkie, or that glass of Pepsi. Thats ok. If you eat HFCS, make it a rare occurrence. If you do that, you shouldn’t have to worry.


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