There has been a lot of controversy about high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in the news and online lately, particularly about its relationship to obesity, diabetes, and the food chain in general. The movie Food, Inc. injected HFCS more into the general consciousness, although nutritionists have been debating about it for some time.
High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) - also known as “Glucose-fructose syrup” in the UK, “Glucose/fructose” in Canada, “Sirop de glucose-fructose” in France, “Jarabe de maíz” in Spanish speaking countries, “Sciroppo di glucosio/fruttosio” in Italy and high-fructose maize syrup in other countries - comprises any of a group of corn syrups that has undergone enzymatic processing to convert some of its glucose into fructose to produce a desired sweetness.
In the United States, consumer foods and products typically use high-fructose corn syrup as a sweetener.
The success of HFCS
Every year about 530 millions bushels of the annual corn harvest are turned into 17.5 billion pounds of HFCS.
Considering that human did not taste this particular food until 1980, for HFCS to have become the leading source of sweetness in our diets stands as a notable achievement of the corn-refining industry.
According to the leading researches since 1985, an American’s annual consumption of HFCS has gone from 45 pounds to almost 66 pounds. One might think that this growth would have been offset by a decline in sugar consumption (as HFCS often replaces sugar) but that didn’t happen at all. In the same period the American consumption of sugar went up by 5 pounds. What this means? Actually that Americans are eating (and mostly drinking) all that HFCS on top of the sugars they are consuming. As a matter of fact the Americans’ total consumption of all added sugars (i.e., cane, beet, HFCS, glucose, honey, maple syrup, agave syrup, etc...) has climbed from 128 pounds to an astonishing 158 pounds...Read the food labels in your kitchen and you’ll probably found that HFCS has insinuated itself into every corner of the pantry: not just into our soft drinks and snack foods (where you would expect to find it) but into ketchup and mustard, the breads and cereals, the relishes and crackers, the hot-dogs and hams.
What the studies say
So is this high consume of HFCS really bad? Studies about it have yielded conflicting results. On one side are the researchers who see some kind of correlation between rising rates of obesity and type II diabetes and the proliferation of HFCS in processed foods and soft drinks. On the other are the recent studies demonstrating that in its effects on the body, HFCS is identical to other sugars.
It’s pretty hard to know what to believe.
Unless you are a very objective epidemiologist, these studies and their findings are probably Greek to you. Whenever there is a nutritional scapegoat or savior, it is very difficult to sort the proverbial wheat from the chaff.
I still haven’t made up my mind yet and will probably never make it!
What’s the verdict?
So, is HFCS bad for you? If either side of the debate is right, the answer is yes. Too much of any sugar is bad for you. I want to say this again: “TOO MUCH SUGAR IS BAD FOR YOU!”
And HFCS is used in a lot of foods not secretly, but certainly without calling much attention.
Even packaged foods labeled as low-fat often use HFCS to compensate for the flavor lost when reducing the fat content.
In terms of nutrient density, HFCS and other sugars are very poor on the nutrient side and very energy rich. Remember the golden rule: energy is converted to fat in the body when consumed in excessive amounts. It also contributes to the glycemic problems that can lead to diabetes. So, if not avoided completely, HFCS should be consumed in limited quantities.
If you currently consume a lot of processed foods and soft drinks, you should make changes to your diet.
Buy yourself a juicer (with 50 bucks you can get a pretty decent one at Sharper Image) and make yourself fresh juice instead of buying soft drinks and bottled juices, which have less nutrition than their fresh counterparts.
Slow down enough to enjoy your meal times when you can. Learning to enjoy the preparation of food can make you less likely to reach for a quick, HFCS-laden, processed alternative.
The Iron You