High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) has found its way into most of our processed products on the shelf disguised under different names such as corn syrup, glucose syrup, fruit fructose, etc. Evidence suggests that this commercially viable sugar source is one of the leading causes for the epidemic of obesity in the United States, especially childhood obesity.
The consumption of HFCS increased > 1000% between 1970 and 1990, far exceeding the changes in intake of any other food or food group. HFCS now represents > 40% of caloric sweeteners added to foods and beverages and is the sole caloric sweetener in soft drinks in the United States. High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a nutritive (calorie-containing) sweetener derived from corn found in many carbonated soft drinks, juice drinks and sports drinks, as well as other snacks, syrups, jellies and other sweetened products.
Why is HFCS preferred by many food manufacturers?
- More economical
- Sweeter than sugar
- Easier to blend into beverages than table sugar
- Helps to keep food moist (esp. bakery products) and
- Adds bulk thereby increasing volume of commercial foods.
Foods that usually contain HFCS:
- Baked goods
- Canned fruits
- Dairy products
- Carbonated drinks
- And most sweetened beverages in the market today
HFCS and table sugar contain the same number of calories – 4 cal/g or 16 cal /tsp.
As long as we stay away from processed foods, we can avoid this dangerous chemical from entering our body. The increased awareness about its harmful health implications has led to the labeling of foods to be free of HFCS. Preparing our own juices, seasonings and bakery products at home using unprocessed, fresh, organic ingredients is our best bet.
HOW DOES HFCS COMPARE WITH REGULAR TABLE SUGAR
White table sugar v/s high fructose corn syrup
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have approved HFCS as a safe ingredient for use in food and beverages. In fact, the FDA based its decision in part on the substantial similarity between HFCS and sucrose (table sugar).
|Table sugar/ white sugar (sucrose)||High Fructose Corn syrup|
|Composition||50% glucose + 50% fructose||45% glucose + 55% fructose|
|Source||Prepared from sugar beet juice, sugar maple sap or sugar cane juice, which is evaporated, treated with chemicals||Obtained from corn starch|
|Nutritive value||Undergoes processing and hence retains relatively lower amounts of nutrients (e.g. Calcium – 1mg/100g)||Contains only carbohydrates in the form of sugar and other nutrients are absent|
|Cost and commercial use||Used for commercial manufacture of white table sugar||Low-cost sugar available in liquid state hence is used in most beverages.|
In order to lower our risk of buying and consuming HFCS-containing products when we shop, we need to keep in mind the following:
- Avoid commercial sodas. These are loaded with HFCS.
- Avoid purchasing any commercial fruit juices. Instead, choose whole fruit, or drink small amounts of organic, unpasteurized fruit juices with no added sugars.
- Begin reading food labels and avoid all products that contain: ‘high-fructose corn syrup,’ ‘chicory,’ ‘iso glucose,’ ‘glucose-fructose syrup,’ ‘dahlia syrup,’ ‘tapioca syrup,’ ‘glucose syrup,’ ‘corn syrup,’ ‘crystalline fructose,’ ‘fruit fructose,’ or ‘agave.’
- Avoid commercial ketchups, sauces, baked goods, crackers, cornflake crumbs, chicken broth, stuffing mixes, commercial cereals, and salad dressings, many of which contain HFCS. Some of these you can make at home from scratch, and many can be bought wherever health foods are sold.
- Note that even so-called “organic” foods, such as ketchup or relish, may have fructose added to them. Ketchup without sugar is actually quite flavorful, so don’t be discouraged by thinking that unless it has sugar, it must taste bad.
4 damaging effects of HFCS on health
Weight gain: HFCS interferes with regulation of food intake and body weight and hence leads to weight gain. Fructose helps in fat synthesis and is therefore related to high triglycerides
Diabetes: HFCS increases insulin resistance (a condition wherein insulin is present in the blood but cells do not recognize it). Insulin resistance can promote an increase in fats in our bloodstream. Fructose has also been found to react with protein molecules in blood to form “toxic, advanced glycation end-products (AGEs).” These AGEs play a role in the onset of complications associated with diabetes.
Damage to immune system: Immune system problems such as Asthma, hay fever, eczema, food allergies, lupus, and multiple sclerosis have greatly increased in recent years. Fructose has been found to inhibit the action of white blood cells, one of the key elements of our immune capability. HFCS dulls the immune response for upto 5 hours making us more susceptible to germs, viruses, parasites, etc. Studies have shown that cancer cells may use fructose for proliferation
A load of dangerous mercury poisons: HFCS has now been found to contain mercury. In January 2009, the Journal of Environmental Health reported that mercury had been found in nearly half of all tested samples of commercial HFCS. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy conducted its own batch of tests and found mercury in nearly one-third of 55 popular brand-name food and beverages (e.g. Quaker, Hershey’s, Kraft, and Smucker’s). High levels of mercury ingestion have been linked to conditions such as autism, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s.
Hence, it is important that you restrict its consumption, failing which, it can have adverse effect on your health.
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Dr Pooja Chhawcharia is the Senior Nutritionist at eKincare with over 7 years of experience in Nutrition education, diet counseling and research. She is a Registered Dietician with the Indian Dietetic Association and Certified Diabetes Educator recognized by the International Diabetes federation . She is also interested in ancillary sciences such as Yoga and Naturopathy.