[Originally published on 01/05/2011]
For quite a while now The Corn Refiners Association has been asking us “What do people say about High Fructose Corn Syrup?” Well, as much as the commercial may try to imply that the answer is a simple nothing, it’s actually quite the contrary. The information regarding high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is abundant to say the least. It appears science has taken on the issue and tried to identify the actual affects of HFCS and the results have been nothing shy of interesting.
First let’s start with some sugar 101. Sugar is sucrose. Sucrose is a disaccharide which in layman’s terms means two sugars. The two sugars that comprise basic table sugar are glucose and fructose. Simple table sugar is comprised of a 50/50 glucose/fructose make up. The difference between basic table sugar and HFCS; the average composition of HFCS is a 45/55 glucose/fructose split. There are a variety of different ratios of glucose to fructose HFCS that get used ranging from a similar 42/53 to a staggering 10/90. What does this mean? Really it all boils down to is an overall 10% average increase in the consumption of fructose. The question now is, what is the difference between glucose and fructose?
Glucose is a carbohydrate that the body uses for both energy and metabolic functions. Glucose is crucial to the production of proteins in the body as well as lipid (fat) metabolism. Fructose is a simple sugar that once split from its glucose counterpart is absorbed into the body through the upper part of the small intestine. Little is known about what it does in the body once absorbed.
There are a few studies that indicate increased levels of fructose do not affect the body any differently than normal levels of fructose intake. One such article, titled, “No differences between sugar and high fructose corn syrup in CVD, weight gain or diabetes,” makes the claim that there is, “no difference between the effect of the consumption of table sugar and high fructose corn syrup on weight gain or any changes in risk factors for metabolic syndrome or insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes,” (“No differences between sugar and high fructose corn syrup in CVD, weight gain or diabetes.”, 4 Jan. 2011.). This article is based off of a study that claims to provide the first glimpse at long term evidence that HFCS is just as harmful as regular table sugar. The study was also funded by a research grant provided by The Corn Refiners Association.
Several other studies indicate that increased levels of fructose can lead to several extremely serious problems. Many studies seem to agree on the fact that the increased prevalence of HFCS is directly correlated with the increased level in the obesity rates. One article claims that the amount of refined sugar ingested per year, per person has exploded over 800% over the course of the past 100 years (BC, JC, C, E, & M, 2010 ). The same article indicates a direct correlation between the increased levels of obesity linked to HFCS and increased levels of dementia.
Obesity and type 2 diabetes have increased in prevalence in the last half-century and have been associated with increased dementia risk. Specific changes in nutrition may also represent a direct risk. A diet transition in the United States has occurred in the intake of refined sugar, particularly high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) from a yearly estimate of 8.1 kg/person at the beginning of the XIX century to a current estimate of 65 kg/person. (BC, JC, C, E, & M, 2010 )
High fructose diets have been shown to drastically increase triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, both major factors in the development of heart disease (Schaefer, Gleason, & Dansinger, June 2009, Vol. 139 Issue 6). In addition to the increase in TG and LDL cholesterol, high fructose diets lead to an increase in the intestines absorption of sodium. As one study states, “increased dietary fructose intake stimulates salt absorption in the small intestine and kidney tubules, resulting in a state of salt overload and thus causing hypertension,” (Soleimani, January 2011). Insulin resistance and hyperlipidaemia (a condition in which an abnormal amount of fat cells are found in the blood) are also noted in this study as noted side effects of a high fructose diet.
In addition to the direct health effects that increased levels of fructose have been attributed too, it has also been found that the process for making HFCS involves the use of mercury compounds. The Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy found that over a third of brand name products tested that used HFCS as a sweetener were found to contain trace elements of mercury. Whereas The Corn Refiners Association makes the claim that now 90% of HFCS products are now mercury free a study conducted by The Journal of Environmental Health found that over half of the samples of HFCS tested contained traces of mercury (Ask EN. Is mercury lurking in high-fructose corn syrup?, 2009-04-01).
So, as we can clearly see here, there is in fact a lot being said about HFCS. The extraordinary prevalence of HFCS has lead to a much higher consumption rate of fructose. The fact that HFCS can be found in such everyday items from the obvious sodas, energy drinks, and juice cocktails to the more unpredictable items such as breads, cereals, dairy products, condiments, canned vegetables, and so on, has lead to an inevitable spike in our fructose intake. According to some studies, this means very little, and according to others it stands to threaten the very way we live. All in all, next time you here the phrase, “What do they say about HFCS?” you know the answer is , “A lot!”.
“No differences between sugar and high fructose corn syrup in CVD, weight gain or diabetes.”. (4 Jan. 2011.). Food Engineering & Ingredients , 5.3 (2010): 26. Health Reference Center Academic. Web. .
ADA demystifies a hot topic: HFCS and weight… high fructose corn syrup. (2009-05-01). Food Insight , 5(1).
AS, B., VK, D., DA, S., CA, A., LM, S., WD, R., et al. (2010-04-01). Sugar-sweetened soda consumption, hyperuricemia, and kidney disease. Kidney International , 609(8).
Ask EN. Is mercury lurking in high-fructose corn syrup? (2009-04-01). Environmental Nutrition , 7(1).
BC, S., JC, W., C, B., E, A., & M, S. (2010 ). Increased fructose intake as a risk factor for dementia. The Journals Of Gerontology , Vol. 65 (8), pp. 809-14. Date of Electronic Publication: 2010 May 26.
Glucose. (n.d.). Retrieved 01 04, 2011, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glucose
Is high-fructose corn syrup safe? And other common questions about which sweeteners are, or aren’t, good for you. (2010-05-01). Consumer Reports on Health , 8(2).
J, B. (2009-01-01). Healthy solutions. Sweet but not safe. Better Nutrition , 22(2).
JM, R. (2010 Jul 01). The health implications of sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, and fructose: what do we really know? ournal Of Diabetes Science And Technology , Vol. 4 (4), pp. 1008-11.
L, L., & M, K. (2009-11-01). Soft drinks and body weight development in childhood: is there a relationship? Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care , 596(5).
Schaefer, E. J., Gleason, J. A., & Dansinger, M. L. (June 2009, Vol. 139 Issue 6). Dietary Fructose and Glucose Differentially Affect Lipid and Glucose Homeostasis. Journal of Nutrition , p1257S-1262S.
Soleimani, M. (January 2011). Dietary fructose, salt absorption and hypertension in metabolic syndrome: towards a new paradigm. Life & Biomedical Sciences , Acta Physiologica. 201(1):55-62.