Have you been fooled by advertisements talking about “corn sugar”? Viewer beware — this is just a more angelic but deceptive term for high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). It’s said that corn refiners have already spent $50 million trying to convince us to accept corn sugar as HFCS’s new namesake. (1)
Manufactured mostly from genetically modified corn, high fructose corn syrup is definitely not natural and definitely not healthy. Chances are all of us have consumed high fructose corn syrup at some point in our lives, whether knowingly or unknowingly. It’s hard to escape this questionable form of sugar that’s found in cereals, baked goods, ultra-processed foods, juices and sodas, among an array of other commonly consumed food and drink.
Farmers used to be subsidized to let their fields go unplanted and unharvested in order to boost the agricultural economy. Not anymore. Today, they’re paid to overproduce, and that’s why HFCS and other corn-based products dominate grocery store shelves. The corn lobbyists are even trying to convince doctors that they shouldn’t warn their patients against HFCS’s negative health effects. Meanwhile, big companies, like Cadbury and Kraft, have been called out for labeling their products as “natural” when they contain HFCS.
Why is high fructose corn syrup bad? The reasons are plentiful, but for starters, HFCS increases your risk of chronic and deadly health problems, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. (2)
What Is High Fructose Corn Syrup?
You’ve probably heard of high fructose corn syrup, but really what is it? Put simply, it’s a sweetener derived from cornstarch. Cornstarch is composed of a chain of glucose (simple sugar) molecules joined together. Corn syrup, which is basically 100 percent glucose, comes from the breakdown of cornstarch into individual glucose molecules.
In order to create high fructose corn syrup, enzymes must be added to corn syrup to change some of the glucose into another simple sugar called fructose. The enzymes, alpha-amylase and glucoamylase, used in HFCS processing have been genetically modified to improve their heat stability for the production of HFCS. (3)
According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, most high fructose corn syrups contain either 42 percent or 55 percent fructose. (4) The rest of the HFCS is glucose and water. HFCS 42 is typically what’s used in cereals, processed foods, baked goods and some beverages. HFCS 55 is used mainly in soft drinks. However, some HFCS contains up to 90 percent fructose. (5)
High fructose corn syrup is also called glucose-fructose, isoglucose and glucose-fructose syrup. Some people, especially the companies producing and using HFCS, like to say that it’s no different from regular sugar. But that’s just not true. HFCS contains more fructose than table sugar, which is a dangerous difference.
Author Bill Sanda reports that in 1980, the average American ingested 39 pounds of fructose and 84 pounds of sucrose. By 1994, it was up to 66 pounds of sucrose and 83 pounds of fructose. Today, approximately 25 percent of our caloric intake comes from sugars, the larger portion being fructose. (6)
There are so many reasons why high fructose corn syrup should be banned from our food supply. Here are some of the most highly disturbing high fructose corn syrup facts:
Americans consume an average of 50 grams of HFCS every day. (7)
HFCS now represents more than 40 percent of caloric sweeteners added to foods and beverages and is the sole caloric sweetener in soft drinks in the U.S. (8)
HFCS has been shown to increase the risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.
Consumption of HFCS increased more than 1,000 percent between 1970 and 1990, far exceeding the intake changes of any other food or food group, and is a main factor in our current obesity epidemic.
HFCS can cause leaky gut syndrome.
HFCS contains up to 570 micrograms of health-hazardous mercury per gram.
HFCS has been shown to promote cancer.
The average 20-ounce soda contains 15 teaspoons of sugar, all of it high fructose corn syrup.
Dangers: Foods with High Fructose Corn Syrup
1. Weight Gain
There is a lot of debate over high fructose corn syrup vs. sugar. Many HFSC supporters want to stay that both are equally bad, but all sweeteners are not created equal when it comes to putting on unwanted pounds. A Princeton University study found that HFCS causes more weight gain than refined sugar does.
Specifically, animal subjects with access to high fructose corn syrup put on significantly more weight than those with access to table sugar, even when overall caloric intake was equal. Furthermore, long-term consumption of high fructose corn syrup was also shown to lead to abnormal increases in body fat, especially in the abdominal region, as well as an increase in triglyceride levels. According to researchers, this study provides insight into factors contributing to the rise of obesity in America. (9)
Related: Is Sugar Bad for You? Here’s How It Destroys Your Body
With high fructose corn syrup found in so many foods and beverages, it’s no surprise that fructose intake has increased dramatically in recent decades. Research from 2010 published by the American Association for Cancer Research found that the fructose in HFCS promotes cancer growth, specifically pancreatic cancer.
This study actually found that cancer cells can readily metabolize fructose and induce rapid reproduction of pancreatic cancer cells. Researchers also found that fructose and glucose metabolism are very different, with fructose causing more negative health reactions than glucose.
This research provides very good reason why cancer patients should not be given anything containing high fructose corn syrup and how avoiding HFCS can possibly disrupt cancer growth. (10) When it comes to cancer prevention and treatment, clearly HFCS is an ingredient that should be aggressively avoided.
3. Fatty Liver and Liver Stress
Fructose is known to stimulate fat accumulation in the liver by increasing fat synthesis yet blocking fat breakdown. In order to chemically create high fructose corn syrup, glucose and fructose, which are naturally linked together, become separated. When HFCS enters your bloodstream, the freed-up fructose travels directly into your liver and overwhelms your liver’s processing capacity.
This then causes unhealthy fat production in your liver called lipogenesis. This can lead to fatty liver disease if more than 5 percent to 10 percent of the liver’s weight becomes fat. It doesn’t stop there, though. Having a fatty liver can lead to serious liver stress, liver damage, obesity, prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. (11)
One of several animal studies shows that excessive fructose consumption is associated with dyslipidemia and increased fat deposits in the liver. Dyslipidemia, or having high blood levels of cholesterol, triglycerides or both, is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease. This study concludes that the findings support limitation of excessive fructose addition in beverages in order to counteract the current epidemic of obesity and type 2 diabetes in industrialized countries like the U.S. (12)
4. Increased Cholesterol Levels
Hight fructose corn syrup intake is linked to high cholesterol levels. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that only two weeks of moderate consumption of high fructose corn syrup caused triglycerides and cholesterol levels to rise.
The study split 85 people with generally healthy lipid profiles into four groups. The first three groups consumed drinks sweetened with either 25 percent, 17.5 percent or 10 percent high fructose corn syrup while the fourth group drank something sweetened only with aspartame.
While I would never promote aspartame consumption either, the results showed that LDL or “bad” cholesterol for the aspartame group remained the same before and after the diet. However, for subjects who consumed HFCS-sweetened beverages for two weeks, the results were as follows: The 10 percent group on average went to LDL of 102 from 95, the 17.5 percent to 102 from 93 and the 25 percent group to 107 from 91. (13)
The lead author of the study, Kimber L. Stanhope, a research scientist at the University of California, Davis said, “It was a surprise that adding as little as the equivalent of a half-can of soda at breakfast, lunch and dinner was enough to produce significant increases in risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Our bodies respond to a relatively small increase in sugar, and that’s important information.”