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Is High Fructose Corn Syrup Worse than Sugar?

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High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has taken a significant share of the blame for the rising obesity rates among Americans. But is HFCS really any worse for you than regular table sugar? Scientists are still debating and busily conducting experiments in the hopes of definitively answering that question.

There are two commonly held beliefs about HFCS that are central to the debate over whether or not HFCS is unhealthier than table sugar (sucrose from sugar cane or sugar beet).

  • HFCS tastes sweeter than table sugar and so Americans crave and eat more of it. The food manufacturing industry has claimed for years that HFCS is no sweeter than table sugar and research seems to bear this out. For example, when HFCS is in the same syrup form that it’s in when it’s added to your favorite soda, scientists have found that HFCS has the same level of sweetness as sucrose.

    However, it’s interesting to note that Americans consume 30 percent more processed foods than fresh foods. Along with being a food sweetener, HFCS is also a food preservative in many processed foods, including canned soups, jellies, salad dressings, and cereals.

  • HFCS makes you fatter than regular sugar. Scientists have been conducting studies for years in the hopes of definitively finding out whether or not consuming HFCS causes more weight gain than sugar.

    Many of the findings have been conflicting. However, the results of two Princeton University studies released earlier this year showed a remarkable amount of weight gain in rats whose diet included HFCS, as compared to rats that were given sucrose instead.

    The increased weight in the HFCS-fed rats occurred even though they were fed the same amount of calories as the sucrose-fed rats. In addition, the rats in the HFCS group were given smaller amounts of sweetener than the rats in the sucrose group.

    Alarmingly, the HFCS rats didn’t just gain extra weight, they developed dangerous abdominal fat that is characteristic of life-threatening obesity. They also developed a marked increase in triglycerides, a type of blood fat.

    The researchers don’t know why the HFCS rats became obese, but they’re theorizing the extra fructose is being metabolized to produce fat, while the glucose is being used for energy or stored as a carbohydrate called glycogen in the liver or muscles.

HFCS is made from corn starch. It’s broken down into two simple sugars during the manufacturing process – glucose and fructose. Most HFCS in U.S. food products is either 42 or 55 percent fructose, and the remainder is glucose. Cane or beet sugar, on the other hand, is sucrose. Sucrose is also composed of fructose and glucose, but in even amounts of 50 percent each. When we consume sucrose, our bodies have to break it down into fructose and glucose before we can digest it.

So while scientists continue to investigate the possible health dangers specific to HFCS, most in the scientific and medical community agree on one thing: Any type of sugar consumed in excess is bad and can contribute to several different health problems.

Americans should consume added sugars with conservative moderation. Too much sweetener, be it HFCS or sucrose, is known to cause

  • Increased triglycerides: These fats increase the risk for developing the clogged arteries that cause heart attacks.

  • Malnutrition: Sugars don’t contain any nutrients. Anyone who eats mainly processed foods, soda pop, and snacks instead of fruits, vegetables, dairy products, whole grains, and lean meats is malnourished.

  • Tooth decay: Sugar is a breeding ground for the bacteria that cause cavities.

  • Weight gain: One big reason manufacturers put sugar in food is to make it taste better, so we’ll eat more of it. Unfortunately, a little sugar contains a whole lot of calories. If the extra calories aren’t being burned off through physical activity, they’ll add extra pounds.

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