High fructose corn syrup (aka HFCS) has gotten quite a bit of press over the past few years. And for good reason. It’s estimated that more calories in the American diet come from this source than any other single source.
So what is HFCS, and why do you care? Let’s tackle the first half of that question first.
HFCS is simply syrup, derived from corn, that has undergone enzymatic processing to increase the fructose content. It is then mixed with unprocessed corn syrup to yield a product that has a similar proportion of fructose and glucose (two types of sugars) to that of table sugar.
So why go to all this trouble to simply create a substitute to table sugar? There are 2 main reasons. The first is because the U.S. can produce lots of corn, but has very little ability to produce cane sugar. The second is cost, because high import quotas and tariffs on cane sugar make it relatively more expensive. These two reasons are closely related and have created a good environment for corn producers, and they lobby the government hard to keep this profitable little setup just as it is.
Once produced, HFCS is then used in the production of items we’re all aware of, namely soft drinks and other sweetened beverages. But it’s also found in foods you wouldn’t really expect, like ketchup, bread, and cereals.
So why do you care? If you are concerned about being healthy, there are a number of reasons to care.
One reason is that, as of 2006, 61% of the corn produced in the U.S. is genetically modified (GMO) corn. There has been much written about the dangers, known and unknown, about consuming foods that have been genetically modified. And because products don’t have to list whether or not their ingredients are of the GMO variety, you might as well assume you’re getting GMO. The only way to be sure you’re not is if that ingredient is listed as organic.
At this point the jury is still out on whether or not HFCS is worse for your body than other sugars. But it’s a safe bet to assume that the more processed a food or ingredient is, the more problems your body will have with it.
Besides, the health issues of eating too much sugar, regardless of the source, are well documented. Sugar contributes to fat storage and weight gain, decreases insulin sensitivity, and increases your body’s triglycerides. It also replaces calories from foods which actually have nutritional value from their included vitamins and minerals, which are absent in processed sugars.
What can you do?
- Quickly scan the ingredient list of products you buy. You’ll be able to spot the ingredient high fructose corn syrup right away.
- Eat less sweets, including sweetened beverages.
- Don’t substitute artificial sweeteners for HFCS or sugar, they are just as dangerous if not more so.
- When you have a choice, buy products that use the least processed form of sweetener you can find. There are a number of products now that use pure cane sugar as their sweetener.
- Better yet, use minimally processed sweeteners such as rapadura sugar or raw honey.
- And finally, give the herb stevia a try. It’s much sweeter than sugar and has no calories.