We Eat Too Much High-Fructose Corn Syrup

by Ellen

Maybe you saw those commercials that The Corn Refiners Association started airing in the summer of 2008 about how natural high-fructose corn syrup is. I mean, it’s made from corn, right? It’s practically a vegetable!  Sadly, in reality, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) consumption is damaging our health.  (Besides, lots of things are “natural,” but that doesn’t mean that we should eat them!)

High-fructose corn syrup is bad for us because fructose is harmful in excess.

Fructose, the “fruit sugar,” is found naturally in fruits and vegetables, along with other sugars, nutrients and fiber.  The problem is that we are now consuming vast quantities of fructose from refined sources, namely high-fructose corn syrup (from 42% to 90% fructose) and sucrose (50% fructose and 50% glucose).  Our ancestors ate fruits and vegetables, but consumed far less fructose than we do.  It’s all about quantity and what our bodies can handle.

Dr. Mercola states:  “If you received your fructose only from vegetables and fruits (where it originates) as most people did a century ago, you’d consume about 15 grams per day — a far cry from the 73 grams per day the typical adolescent gets from sweetened drinks. In vegetables and fruits, it’s mixed in with fiber, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and beneficial phytonutrients, all which moderate any negative metabolic effects.”¹

I just watched the most amazing video entitled, “Sugar: The Bitter Truth.”  In it, Robert H. Lustig, MD, of UCSF talks about sugars and their effects on our bodies.  He shows biochemically how fructose is metabolized differently from glucose, which is essential for life.  Sucrose (table sugar) is also harmful, because fifty percent of it is fructose and we consume far too much of it, too.  If you have an hour and a half to learn more about what fructose really does to us, watch this video.

Some facts about fructose from Dr. Lustig:

  • Only the liver can metabolize fructose.  Dr. Lustig classifies fructose as a poison, since detrimental effects to the body result from its metabolism.
  • Fructose does not stimulate insulin, so the brain doesn’t communicate well with leptin and we don’t know when we’ve had enough to eat.
  • A waste product of fructose metabolism is uric acid, which has been shown to increase the risk of  gout and hypertension.
  • 30% of fructose calories end up as fat.
  • Fructose metabolism creates  fatty acids which accumulate as fat droplets in the liver and muscle tissue.  These fat deposits lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver and insulin resistance which in turn can progress to metabolic syndrome (obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, lipid problems, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.)
  • Chronic fructose exposure is associated with eight of the same health outcomes as chronic ethanol exposure.  Drinking a can of soda is like drinking a can of beer.  They are both linked with hypertension, myocardial infarction, dyslipidemia, Pancreatitis, obesity, Hepatic dysfunction (NASH), fetal insulin resistance and habituation/addiction.

Dr. Lustig goes on to tell us that the fructose that comes in nature, like from a piece of fruit or some sugar cane, is consumed along with its fiber.  The fiber plays a critical role in suppressing our insulin response and in causing our satiety signal to kick in sooner so we don’t eat as much.²

Television Commercials

Sweetsurprise.com would have you thinking that HFCS is all-natural and healthful.  Watch some of the commercials that ran on television — they’re on the homepage.  Read more about how high-fructose corn syrup is produced here.  Does that seem “natural?”

Then, check out the holisticoption.com‘s anti-HFCS commercial

It’s Everywhere

High-fructose corn syrup is in tens of thousands of processed foods including: yogurts, condiments, boxed cereals, chocolate milk (think “school lunch”), soft drinks, pasta sauces, breads, protein bars, baked goods, chips, pretzels, hamburger buns, barbecue sauce, ice cream, sports drinks — you name it.

The Corn Refiners Association says HFCS is perfectly safe if consumed in moderation. The problem is, we eat massive amounts of the stuff.  The average American eats 63 pounds per person per year of fructose.4 Guess where most of it comes from?  High-fructose corn syrup.  If it’s in so many foods, how can we consume it in moderation?  It’s all about quantity.

Where did it come from?

High-fructose corn syrup is much cheaper to produce than table sugar.  When America went on its low-fat diet, something had to replace the fat.  Enter HFCS.  Fructose not only improves the palatability of fat-free processed foods, it also increases their browning ability.  Dr. Lustig tells us that it also causes advanced glycation end-products (or AGEs) which cause browning in our arteries, too.

Soft Drinks

You probably already know that most soft drinks are now sweetened with HFCS instead of table sugar. Remember “New Coke” and the switch back to “Coke Classic” that tasted a bit different from the original? Coca-Cola substituted high-fructose corn syrup for cane sugar when it changed back to its old recipe.

Onlineschools.org has a wonderful poster about the health effects of soft drinks:

The Stats on Soft Drinks

Via: Onlineschools.org5

Not Convinced Yet?

Okay, so we know fructose if really bad for us in the quantities we consume.  Some other considerations:

What can we do?

  • Read labels and don’t buy processed foods that contain HFCS.
  • Don’t drink sweetened beverages, like soft drinks or packaged chocolate milk.
  • Exercise.  Dr. Lustig explains how exercise improves insulin sensitivity, reduces stress (which helps drive down appetite),  and helps neutralize the effects of fructose before it can be stored as fat.
  • Remember that we get fructose from table sugar, too.  Cut down on all sweets.
  • Eat fructose with its fiber.

This post is part of Real Food Wednesday hosted by Kelly the Kitchen Kop.

Update 4/13/10:

Please see my post about high-fructose corn syrup and obesity.  There is evidence that HFCS and table sugar may be metabolized differently, with HFCS contributing more to obesity.

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2) Sugar: The Bitter Truth.  UC Television, Dr. Robert H. Lustig, UCSF Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, July 30, 2009.

3) The Holistic Option: ANTI-High-Fructose Corn Syrup Ad

4) op. cit., Lustig.

5) onlineschools.org

6) op. cit., Mercola.com

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Comments on this entry are closed.

Christy April 7, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Great post. Every time I read about HFCS it encourages me to step up my vigilance against it. I posted the Anti Commercial on my blog.

BodyEarth April 7, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Thanks, Christy. I love the Anti-HFCS ad!

Farmer Chef April 8, 2010 at 10:09 pm

We’ve been avoiding HFCS like the plague for a while now. I actually have a child who is allergic to it. Needless to say, we read labels constantly. From what I understand, HFCS is actually a waste product. That is the most effective way to increase profit- sell your trash! Of course the corn businesses say that it’s safe. We have to always follow the money trail. It’s that way with so many things in the food industry.This was a good post.

BodyEarth April 10, 2010 at 6:42 am

I never thought of allergies to HFCS, Farmer Chef! I wonder how many other people are allergic and just don’t realize it.
It must be hard to avoid, even if one never buys boxed foods, because it’s in so many restaurant foods, too. My pet peeve is the chocolate milk served in school lunches. When are parents able to read those labels?

Money is exceedingly powerful. I was trying to figure out how HFCS can be cheaper to produce than refined sugar when there are so many complicated steps involved. I suppose if you start with a really inexpensive material it still comes out cheaper!

Thanks for visiting.

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