Is High-Fructose Corn Syrup Bad?
High-fructose corn syrup has been involved in a controversy that questions its impact on people’s health. How good or bad is it really when compared to other known sweeteners, such as honey, sucrose and fruit juice concentrates?
High Fructose Corn Syrup Defined
High-fructose corn syrup is a sweetener like table sugar or sucrose but in liquid form.
It is typically used to sweeten beverages and processed foods. So, it is commonly present in sodas and snack foods.
But it’s not just added to foods that are sweet. It is also added to foods like bread.
How is it made?
Regular corn syrup is processed from corn starch. It is mainly pure glucose with water. This glucose is the same type of sugar that flows in the blood and gives energy to the cells of the body.
To make high-fructose corn syrup or HFCS, the regular corn syrup is mixed with enzymes, which convert the glucose to fructose. Fructose is the sugar that is naturally present in fruits.
HFCS is given this name because it has higher fructose content compared to regular corn syrup. But not all HFCS have the same fructose content.
How is HFCS used?
Since 1970, companies used high-fructose corn syrup in making beverages instead of sucrose. This continued all through the mid-1990s.
Companies prefer to use HFCS because it is sweeter and easier to use than sucrose when processing. Also, it has better stability and functionality.
Now, sucrose and HFCS are equally used in the United States.
But around the world, over 90 percent of companies use sucrose as the non-diet sweetener, according to the American Society for Clinical Nutrition.
Which is better: Sucrose or High-Fructose Corn Syrup
Sucrose, which is also called table sugar, is produced by crystallizing the juice of sugar cane or sugar beet. It is a combination of glucose and fructose, just like high-fructose corn syrup.
Sucrose and HFCS have the same ratio of glucose to fructose, but the molecules of glucose and fructose in sucrose are joined by a chemical bond.
Upon eating sucrose, it is easily broken down by the stomach acid and the enzymes in the gut.
On the other hand, high-fructose corn syrup lacks the chemical bond between glucose and fructose, and it contains water, which sucrose doesn’t have.
Why is High-Fructose Corn Syrup Unhealthy?
High-fructose corn syrup is pretty much the same in chemical makeup as the other common sweeteners, but why is it that it is considered harmful to health?
The controversy began when more people became obese and sick with related conditions as the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup increased in society.
People actually questioned how the body breaks down high-fructose corn syrup and the other sugars as well as the potential harm of the resulting substances to the body.
The Food and Drug Administration has not given any statement that points out the unsafe use of food products containing high-fructose corn syrup or any other sweetener that is similar to HFCS.
But it should be noted that the consumption of a high amount of added sugar means high-calorie intake that can result to having certain health problems, such as:
Resistance to insulin, which precedes type 2 diabetes
High triglyceride levels and high blood pressure
Heart disease which may develop as a result of the above-mentioned risks
That is why the Department of Agriculture and the Department o Health and Human Services have recommended a limited consumption of added sugars, both high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose included.
High Fructose Corn Syrup: Questions and Answers; U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
J. S. White (2008). “Straight talk about high-fructose corn syrup: what it is and what it ain’t.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
What is high-fructose corn syrup? What are the health concerns? Mayo Clinic.
Photo credits: By Mike Mozart via Flickr, CC by 2.0