High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is corn syrup that is processed to convert some of its glucose into fructose to make it sweeter. HFCS is the sweetener of choice for most food companies, and is found in everything from bread to baby food. It has replaced sugar (sucrose) in processed food and baked goods because it costs less than sugar.
HFCS has become controversial recently because of its widespread use in products that one wouldn’t expect to contain sugar. As studies have found an alarming number of ill effects that appear to be caused or worsened by HFCS, such as higher triglycerides, greater insulin resistance, increased abdominal fat, and elevated blood pressure, the food industry and corn growers maintain that HFCS is safe, even preferable to cane or beet sugar. HFCS has also been linked to weight gain in a Princeton animal study.
As noted, the effects of HFCS are controversial and still being studied, but one fact remains: the amount of sweeteners in our food today is very high—we’re simply eating too much sugar in general. Most HFCS consumption is in the form of soft drinks. According to the USDA Economic Research Service, in 2003 the average American consumed 63 pounds of HFCS, 75% in soft drinks. As the use of HFCS has exploded over the past decade, that number is likely to be much higher today, and does not include all the other sugars that we consume, most of which have no nutrient value.
Some food manufacturers are removing HFCS from their products, which is an encouraging step, but we’d like to suggest that you become vigilant about your sugar intake. A good place to start is to reduce soft drink intake; read labels; avoid sugar, especially HFCS, whenever possible; and eat whole, fresh foods whenever you can. The less your food has been processed, the healthier it is.
When you’re reading labels, anything with the word syrup or sweetener (or ending in –ose) is a sugar. Some other sugars and sugar derivatives to watch for are maltodextrin or dextrin, sorghum, brown rice syrup, agave nectar, treacle, xylose, fruit juice concentrate, and dehydrated cane juice.
Have you reduced your intake of HFCS?