Monday, February 20, 2012


Before you going running to the nearest teenager, I'm talking about High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). If you do go ask a teenage, please share their response. It could very enlightening.

I am almost to the end of my look into the various sweeteners to see which I am truly comfortable eating. Many I just intuitively know aren't wise choices or, more likely, have built a bias toward because of the various blogs and books I've read. This whole exercise of writing about the different sweet options has been to determine for myself why or why not a particular sweetener is okay for me. I've been pretty happy with what I've learned and hope my examination of the subject has prompted you to do a little of you own investigating.

Anyway, let's get back to looking at why or why not HFCS should be part of a healthy diet. I really like the quick to the point bullet list from my post on the colorful table-top sweeteners from last week. It's simple, straight forward and saves you from all my wordiness. Instead of a top 5, however, let's do a top 10 of why it's bad for you and why it's good for you. But, before we get to that, let's define what it actually is.

HFCS is defined as 'a sweetener made by processing corn syrup to increase the level of fructose, usually to between 42% and 55% of the total sugar, with the balance being glucose. It is used extensively as a sweetener in processed foods and soft drinks, particularly soda and baked goods, but it is included also in many foods not normally thought of as sweet foods.' Essentially, HFSC is a cheaper option for food manufacturers as compared to sugar (sucrose). As such, it has become the go to sweetener for cheaper engineered foods.

HFCS is manufactured through a series of steps. First, corn starch is converted to corn syrup through hydrolysis using enzymes and chemicals including hydrochloric acid. Then, another enzyme is utilized to change the chemical structure of the mostly glucose corn syrup to create a syrup with a higher fructose content. Due to this higher fructose content, HFCS is metabolized by the body much quicker than sucrose (sugar). source

Top 10 Reasons HFCS Is a Bad Choice

  1. In a study at Princeton University, HFCS was shown to cause more weight gain than table sugar with equal calories.
  2. HFCS may contain mercury, up to 0.57mg per 1g of HFCS. The mercury is used in the manufacture of caustic acid and chlorine which in turn is used to produce HFCS. The concentration is high enough for concern when feeding products with HFCS to young children or adults sensitive to mercury.
  3. Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) is a substance formed when HFCS is heated. HMF has been shown to be toxic to bees.
  4. The same HMF that kills bees has been linked to DNA damage in humans.
  5. HFCS increases the risk of heart disease by increasing LDL and triglycerides in the blood.
  6. Studies have shown a link between daily HFCS consumption and liver damage.
  7. Fructose does not satisfy hunger as it does not stimulate production of hormones critical to communicating the need to stop eating to the central nervous system.
  8. Many doctors, nutritionists and researchers believe HFCS plays an important role in the current obesity epedimic.
  9. HFCS contains no nutrients, vitamins or minerals. Furthermore, it may interfere with the body's ability to utilize nutrients in the bloodstream.
  10. Obviously, HFCS is derived from corn. As I noted regarding Sweet 'n Low, unless the corn is from a local farmer, slathered in butter and hot off the grill, I don't want corn.
Top 10 Reasons HFCS Is a Good Choice

  1. It makes food sweet.
  2. It allows food to set on the shelf longer before going bad.
  3. It provides really cheap calories. But, then again, if you have to eat a ton of a food in order to feel food, is it really cheap?
  4. It's a great way for farmers to offload tons of corn that they are paid to produce by the US government.
  5. It's a great way to make barely edible foods palatable.
  6. It's no worse than sucrose, table sugar. That's not really great, but it's something. See my post on sugar here.
  7. The HFCS industry keeps thousands employed.
  8. HFCS gives some food products a chewy texture.
  9. Here's a great place to read the industry's take on it's own favorite sweetener.
  10. I can't think of anything else. I'm amazed I could come up with nine.
For all these reasons, HFCS is at the bottom of my sweetener choice. That said, I don't believe the people peddling the stuff are evil. I also don't think a bit of HFCS now and again is horrible for anyone. The key is moderation. Moderation brings me back to what I feel is my best option: changing my palate by avoiding overly sweet stuff on a daily basis. I somewhat confirmed my theory the other day when I had a strawberry. (Yes, a total cheat at this point in my ACD, but my youngest left it on her plate and, out of habit, I finished off the last berry for her.) That thing overwhelmed me. Keep in mind we're talking mid-winter, shipped around the world strawberries here. Nonetheless, it tasted like it was the sweetest thing ever to my poor deprived sweet-detecting taste buds. I can't wait to have a peach this summer. My point? I don't think I'll feel I'm missing anything when I pass up the vending machine full of candy bars if fresh fruit tastes so darn decadent.

Happy President's Day!


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