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Health Consequences of High Fructose Corn Syrup
Have you ever been driving late at night when you come around a bend and suddenly there is an enormous structure with lights everywhere and a chemical smell you can’t really describe–and its 2:00 in the morning? You may have been driving by a high fructose corn syrup refinery.
Now the Corn Refiners Association (their website pops up as the top paid position if you Google search High Fructose Corn Syrup) has told us that corn syrup is the same as sugar. As the word gets out that there may be some down sides to its consumption, companies have, or are planning to, abandon it like rats jumping off a sinking ship. And these are big junk food companies like Coke, Pepsi, Gatorade, Hunts Ketchup, Con Agra, Starbucks baked goods, Sara Lee and Snapple. It seems incongruent with the Corn Refiners Association assertion that corn syrup and sugar are virtually identical. Add to that, corn is a commodity crop that is highly subsidized by the federal government, thanks to the Farm Bill. This makes HFCS a lot cheaper than regular sugar. So taking out HFCS may potentially decrease corporate profits—it shows the power of the consumer.
What Is High Fructose Corn Syrup?
The high fructose corn syrup, as the name implies, usually has a higher fructose/glucose ratio than sugar although it can also have a lower ratio. So you might ask–fructose is the sugar that’s in fruit–so it can’t be that bad? The science is telling us that fructose doesn’t cause problems in moderation. Now we know that everyone who ingests corn syrup only has it in moderation. In our culture a Big Gulp is considered moderation–but a Super Big Gulp—now that’s going overboard. The average American gets about 37 pounds of corn syrup a year. I take in very little–somebody out theirs is having more than their fair share.
So what happens when we ingest too much fructose? Studies in animals suggest a peripheral enzyme that metabolizes fructose is overwhelmed and a liver version of the enzyme takes over and creates a metabolic problem for the liver, including an energy drain (1). This causes fatty liver and increased production of uric acid, which is highly inflammatory at elevated levels. Uric acid is what causes gout, which is very painful swelling of a joint, usually the big toe. There’s also evidence of this liver metabolic drain in humans as well (2). Fructose also increases the production of triglycerides in the liver which, besides increasing your risk of heart disease, doesn’t allow Leptin to enter the brain to tell you that you’re full, and stop eating stupid (3). So HFCS ingestion has been associated with obesity (4).
But then you say “Okay Doc, I’ll eat Twinkies in moderation and to stop washing them down with a Big Gulp.” It would still be preferable to get fructose from fruit because it’s packaged with flavenoid antioxidants, fiber, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C along with the fructose. In nature the poison is packaged with the antidote. In your Twinkies you’re not getting the same plant-based nutrients, just synthetic chemicals and wheat starch.
Corn that’s destined for corn syrup production is grown on factory farms using mono-agriculture techniques which are harmful to the environment. The corn is usually genetically modified and is doused with pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers. If you think about it, HFCS on the label is a marker for a processed food with cheap ingredients. So this is a valuable, for you and me it can be a skull and cross bones type warning (like don’t do near this stuff without a hazmat suit). For a person that’s on a natural foods diet, you don’t want to eat any food that comes out of a massive building that looks a lot like an oil refinery. But don’t think that these big companies that are removing HFCS from their products care about your health. They’re removing it only because of consumer demand. Their goal is sales and profits. They have already proven over and over that they don’t care and when they take HFCS out, it still won’t be a healthy food. Let’s stop buying processed food altogether and force the food conglomerates to come up with a better system, one with real farms and farmers. You want a sweetener? Get something organic, use it in moderation, and be sure and burn off the calories with activity. Let’s encourage one another to take a stand for health.
References For This Article
1) Miguel A Takuji Ishimoto, et al. Opposing effects of fructokinase C and A isoforms on fructose-induced metabolic syndrome in mice. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2012; 109(11):4320-4325.
2) F. Abdelmalek et al. Higher dietary fructose is associated with impaired hepatic ATP homeostasis in obese individuals with type 2 diabetes. Hepatology 2012.
3) G.A. Bray, S. J. Nielsen, and B.M. Popkin. Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity. Am J Clin Nutr 2004; 79(4):537-43.
4) Karen L. Teff et al. Endocrine and metabolic effects of consuming fructose- and glucose-sweetened beverages with meals in obese men and women: influence of insulin resistance on plasma triglyceride responses. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2009; February.