Confused about high-fructose corn syrup?

I’m sure you’ve all seen this commercial that came out a few years ago.  Some of you might have been confused since don’t we all know that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is bad?  Others might have been embarrassed (much like that mom) for jumping on the anti-high-fructose-corn-syrup bandwagon.

Well, let’s set the record straight.  There are many reasons to limit or discontinue your consumption of HFCS.  If only that snooty mom had read this article prior to attending the party she might not have been so embarrassed.

Yes, fructose comes from nature (fruits) so I guess that makes it “natural”.  However, “natural” is a term that is loosely thrown around.  And since the FDA pretty much refuses to define what “natural” means when referring to foods, it would not be a descriptor that I would put a lot of faith in.

But back to fructose. You may be asking yourself, “So what’s the big deal if fructose is found in fruit?”  Well, fructose is only 5-9% by weight of cherries, bananas, grapes, apples, blackberries and blueberries to name a few fruits.¹  Whereas in HFCS, it is composed of 55% fructose and 45% glucose.²  And let’s not forget that fruits have things like fiber and other minerals to slow down the absorption of those sugars whereas HFCS is pure unadulterated sugar.³  While it’s true that fructose is considered a low-glycemic food because it doesn’t raise insulin levels (think of insulin as the key that lets sugar aka glucose into your cells), it causes other health problems.

So now we get to the bad stuff.  As I mentioned above, fructose does not raise insulin levels.  However, it does increase fat production and can lead to a disease called fatty liver disease.⁴  Fatty liver disease is just like it sounds.  Essentially, your liver has too much fat, which can eventually lead to inflammation and scarring (aka cirrhosis).  We typically think of cirrhosis in alcoholics but because of the increase in HFCS in our diet, it is estimated that 30% of the US population has fatty liver not due to alcoholism.  And if you’re obese, that number drastically increases to 80%.⁵

So how does this happen?  Well, to simplify the complexity of our biochemistry, when you eat sugar, it gets broken down in steps to  either be used or stored for later.  Our intelligent bodies have a fabulous system in place to regulate incoming glucose (the sugar we look at for diabetes).  However, tricky fructose is not regulated by our bodies, because in nature, fructose and glucose tend to come in even amounts so your body has an idea of how much it’s getting and therefore, no need to regulate both glucose and fructose.⁴

Not making sense yet?  Imagine glucose as the adult at the amusement park and fructose is their child.  There’s a reason that the children have to be accompanied by adults at the amusement park, so they don’t get hurt.  But adults can hang out at the amusement park by themselves since they can keep themselves under control or “self-regulate”.  So if fructose (child) isn’t accompanied by glucose (parent), things can go awry.

So what kind of mess can these “kids” get into?  Well, in addition to causing fatty liver disease, by raising your fat production, HFCS can increase your cholesterol.  High levels of cholesterol can put people at risk for cardiovascular disease like atherosclerosis.  In addition, fructose can chelate (bind and remove) much needed minerals like copper, chromium, and zinc.⁶  As if that wasn’t bad enough, fructose absorption is limited in 60% of normal adults, meaning if you eat too much, it can cause GI distress like gas, diarrhea, and bloating.⁷

Since HFCS is cheap, it tends to be added to lots of foods to keep costs low.  So as always, be sure to read your food labels and educate yourself on what you’re actually putting into your body.  Not that I would encourage anyone to eat massive amounts of sugar but if you must have something sweet, consider raw honey (40% fructose) or no sugar sweeteners like Stevia.¹

Now don’t you wish you were at that party so you could school both those moms?  Do you consume HFCS regularly or try to avoid it?  Share your experience and thoughts below!

Stay radiant,
Dr. Russell

1. “Fructose Content of Foods.” Health-Diet.US. 25 August 2013. <http://health-diet.us/fructose/>
2. “High Fructose Corn Syrup Has A Press Agent.” Atkins International. 25 August 2013. <http://www.atkins.com/Science/Articles—Library/Sugar/High–Fructose-Corn-Syrup-Has-a-Press-Agent!-.aspx>
3. “More Dangers of High Fructose Corn Syrup.” Atkins International. 25 August 2013. <http://www.atkins.com/Science/Articles—Library/Sugar/More-Dangers-of-High-Fructose-Corn-Syrup.aspx>
4. Murray, Robert K, Daryl K. Granner, and Victor W. Rodwell. Harper’s Illustrated Biochemistry: 27th Edition. United State: McGraw-Hill, 2006.
5. Sears MD, Dawn. “Fatty Liver.” August 2012. Emedicine. 25 August 2013. <http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/175472-overview#aw2aab6b5>
6. Morstein, Mona. “Carbohydrates and Fiber.” Macronutrients and Specialized Diets Class. SCNM, July 2010.
7. Rumessen JJ, Gudmand-Hoyer E. Absorption capacity of fructose in health adults. Comparison with sucrose and its constituent monosaccharides. Gut 1986; 27: 1161-1168.

 

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