Is it Really as Safe as Sugar?
Recently, I’ve seen several commercials cropping up about the safety and ‘truth’ about high fructose corn syrup. These ads are likely in response to many of the all-natural fruit juice advertisements, which state that many processed fruit juices contain high fructose corn syrup, and say this in such a way that it appears to be a bad thing. When compared with all natural, 100% fruit juice, high fructose corn syrups would be a ‘bad thing’, just as added sugar would be when compared the same way.
Still, the advertisements on behalf of the high fructose corn syrup attempt to sway public opinion to believe that high fructose corn syrup is, ‘…made from corn, has the same calories as sugar or honey, and it’s fine in moderation.’ I suppose for most people, most things are likely ‘safe’ in moderation, but I also know processed foods, particularly those with high fructose corn syrup, were on my list of no-nos from my doctor.
Armed with this information and some curiosity, I decided to discover what the problems with high fructose corn syrup are, compared to sugar, and learn whether or not high fructose corn syrup really is ‘safe’.
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) – How It’s Made
Yes, the advertisements are correct in stating that at the base, HFCS is made from corn. However, it’s not naturally made from corn the way sugar is naturally extracted from sugar cane or beets. HFCS is made by taking corn starch and processing it with at least three different enzymes and heating and processing, which in turn changes the molecular structure. In other words, HFCS is genetically altered food. If you seek to avoid artificial and/or genetically enhanced foods, then anything containing HFCS would need to be avoided.
High Fructose Corn Syrup Vs. Sugar
HFCS and sugar do indeed have a similar composition when it comes to what the two break down into: fructose and glucose. Sugar is typically 50% fructose and 50% glucose. HFCS is typically 55% fructose and 45% glucose. Whether the slight difference in percentage is important is not known. What is known, however, is that sugar and high fructose corn syrup, while similar in composition, actually are different in the fact that HFCS has separate molecules for the fructose and glucose while sugar has glucose and fructose as a single molecule (disaccharide, made from two monosaccharides). Again, this speaks to the genetically altered composition of the HFCS.
Does this make a difference in health when consuming HFCS? That is unclear in studies, but there are studies indicating the HFCS could be one of the contributing causes for the increasing obesity epidemic in America, particularly when compared with other countries where sugar is cheaper than it is here in the U.S. (due to trade issues and tariffs.)
HFCS Causes Weight Gain?
While there is no conclusive proof HFCS causes weight gain, there is clear evidence that fructose and glucose both cause insulin reactions in the body, and insulin reactions can cause weight gain, appetite problems, and complications with diabetes. High fructose corn syrup has been directly linked to severe complications with diabetics, including increasing instances of skin ulcers, nerve problems, and eye damage. Sugar, by contrast, while not safe for a diabetic, does not show the same type of damage as caused by HFCS. (This is due to the carbonyl compounds, particularly when found in HFCS sweetened sodas.)
Unfortunately, the studies available do not know whether these complications are a cause or effect situation with the consumption of HFCS. It’s also not known if the same or similar weight gain and complications with diabetes would occur if sugar were used in place of HFCS.
Depending on who funds the study, the results of the studies do appear to be biased. Two studies, one performed by a farm associated with a vested interest in selling corn products, including HFCS and another performed by a beverage company, using HFCS to sweeten their sodas, both indicate there are no increased incidences in complications with diabetes or weight gain over sugar. Studies funded by other agencies or research groups indicate there might be a correlation.
The Truth about High Fructose Corn Syrup
What both sides of the coin tend to agree upon is that HFCS is less expensive in America to use than other types of sweeteners, and as such, high fructose corn syrup is increasingly being used in products in place of sugar. Because Americans tend to prefer the taste of sweetness more than most other countries, it’s not unusual to find HFCS added to products that might otherwise not contain a sweetener at all, to enhance flavor.
This, in turn, results in increasing the amount of fructose/glucose in most diets, while creating a dependence on the flavor of HFCS enhanced foods, and thus resulting in the consumer become accustomed to ‘sweet’ foods. These ‘sweeter’ foods in turn have more HFCS, and the vicious circle begins anew.
If you go grocery shopping, you might be surprised to find that HFCS is an ingredient in many foods you might not have realized or even considered having sugar in them. I was able to find a brand of green beans on the grocery store shelf with high fructose corn syrup in them. Have American taste buds become so accustomed to the taste of ‘sweet’ that these manufacturers believe we need high fructose corn syrup in green beans?
Check the cans of corn. Yes, some kernelled corn contains high fructose corn syrup and most all creamed corn I found contains it. Yes, corn contains a corn sweetener. Doesn’t really make sense to me. Even some of the packages of frozen vegetables contain high fructose corn syrup, to enhance flavor.
So in summary, I’d have to say, the ads are right about HFCS in that, in moderation, high fructose corn syrup is probably just fine to consume. The problem is: when HFCS is in so very many foods we can buy prepared at the store or at restaurants, including vegetables, breads, cereal, juices, punches, yogurts, ice creams, cakes, and yes, even some meat products (pre-made hamburger patties and meatballs had HFCS in them!), then it’s nearly impossible to eat HFCS ‘in moderation’. As such, I definitely believe it’s possible for HFCS to be contributing to the obesity epidemic in America, without consumers even realizing just how much HFCS is being consumed.
Therefore, the advertisements aren’t exactly dishonest. However, I would say they are slightly misleading by leaving out the fact that HFCS is found in so many products. Do your own research when you are shopping, and you’ll see.
Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments on this particular subject in the comments section below.