Did you know that in 1970 high fructose corn syrup actually did not exist? Since the early 70’s the rate at which it has been added to food has greatly increased. To the point where it is hard to find food that does not contain it. But is it healthy for you to consume? The corn refiners association would have you think so, but they also have a lot of money on the line, so I’m sure they’re opinion is not a bias one. High fructose corn syrup has actually been tied to obesity and also to heart disease, so a healthy choice? Maybe not.
What is it really?
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is made from natural ingredients. But, this natural ingredient from corn (corn syrup) then undergoes an enzymatic processing to increase it’s fructose content. Corn is milled into corn starch and then processed to yield corn syrup which is almost entirely glucose. Enzymes are then added to make it about 90% fructose. This fructose is then remixed with an amount of glucose to make high fructose corn syrup. Depending on the application and sweetness desired, it can be mixed at different ratios.
Fructose vs. Sucrose
Another name for HFCS on ingredient lists is fructose and for table sugar, it’s sucrose. The difference between these types of sugars is the way our bodies break them down. Sucrose is broken down before it ever finds it’s way to the liver and is converted into both fructose and glucose, which our body uses. It does get kind of tricky when you really focus on sucrose, because it is actually composed of both fructose and glucose, and fructose is the bad stuff right? Well, yes and no. With sucrose our bodies break it down during digestion through a process called hydrolysis through which it is able to regulate the rate of breakdown. Without this breakdown, our bodies have a harder time controlling the rate at which the sugar is absorbed into the bloodstream. The molecules of fructose and glucose in table sugar are also at a 50/50 ratio and are contained in the same molecule (called a disaccharide) and our bodies process them differently than when the fructose and glucose, as in high fructose corn syrup, are unbalanced and they remain separate molecules.
Fructose actually finds it’s way to the liver almost incompletely broken down. And the amount of fructose overwhelms the amount of glucose in it. Our liver must then work harder to break up this substance and remove it from our bodies. And for a part of our bodies that need to function properly to expel old hormones and environmental toxins, it’s not something we want to overwork. And since fructose is metabolized differently in the body, it also contributes to weight gain even though it has the same number of calories per serving as table sugar.
What to do
Unfortunately HFCS seems to be in everything. Just check some labels of your favorite foods. We know it’s in most soft drinks, ice creams, and packaged baked goods. But did you also know it’s also in bread, crackers, and even ketchup? Because the cost of HFCS is so low, food manufacturers use it in place of regular sugar in almost everything. Cutting out HFCS was also my start down the road to eating organic, since organic foods do not have any HFCS in them at all. (I started to buy organic products when my son was ready for solid foods since I refused to buy him anything with the stuff in it) While high sugar diets of any kind are not healthy, replacing HFCS with regular table sugar is a step in the right direction.
I would challenge you all to reach into your cupboards and read just a few labels. Next time you head to the store, try and find a replacement for at least one product you buy regularly. If you replace just one or two items a week the impact on your budget will be lower, and the impact on your health will be great.
*As an added note, since I now eat only a very, very small amount of HFCS (usually when I eat at someone else’s house) I actually can feel a difference when I do eat it, normally in the fact that I get a migraine almost every time I consume it in larger quantities. HFCS may have just been one of the reasons I suffered from migraines for all those years!