Monday, December 20, 2010
What You Need To Know
Prior to 1966, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) was virtually non-existent in Americans' diets. When it came to sweeteners, the number one version on the market was sucrose, or table sugar. But that all changed after the invention of high-fructose corn syrup.
Made from corn starch through a complicated process, HFCS emerged as a cheaper, significantly sweeter, easy to transport and easy to use (especially in beverages, since it's a liquid) alternative to sugar.
Even supposedly "healthy" bottled teas and sports drinks are usually sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup.
Today, sweeteners made from corn are the most widely used -- they account for 55 percent of the sweetener market and bring in $4.5 billion in sales each year. And consumption continues to grow. In 2001, the average American consumed almost 63 pounds of HFCS (up from zero in 1966).
In fact, between 1970 and 1990, Americans' intake of HFCS increased more than 1,000 percent - -which is far greater than changes in intake for any other food, according to an article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
High-Fructose Corn Syrup is Everywhere
Soft drinks, fruit juices and other sweet beverages (including sports and energy drinks) are almost always sweetened with HFCS. In fact, HFCS is the only caloric sweetener used in soft drinks.
But, this versatile sweetener doesn't stop there. It's also in countless other products -- many that you wouldn't expect unless you read the label. These include baked goods, cookies, jams and jellies, ketchup, pasta sauce, salad dressing, bread, condiments and many others.
Why HFCS May be Worse for You Than Sugar
High-fructose corn syrup is not the same as the corn syrup you buy to make pies. Whereas regular corn syrup is all glucose, HFCS is composed of roughly half glucose and half fructose.
Says George A. Bray, former director of Louisiana State University's Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, "Fructose is absorbed differently [than other sugars]. It doesn't register in the body metabolically the same way that glucose does."
When glucose is consumed, a set of reactions occur in the body allowing it to be used as energy, and production of leptin, a hormone that helps control appetite and fat storage, is increased. Meanwhile, ghrelin, a stomach hormone, is reduced, which is thought to help hunger go away.
Many experts agree high-fructose corn syrup, particularly in soft drinks, is at least partly responsible for America's obesity epidemic.
When fructose is consumed, however, it "appears to behave more like fat with respect to the hormones involved in body weight regulation," explains Peter Havel, associate professor of nutrition at the University of California, Davis. "Fructose doesn't stimulate insulin secretion. It doesn't increase leptin production or suppress production of ghrelin. That suggests that consuming a lot of fructose, like consuming too much fat, could contribute to weight gain."
Many experts have, in fact, suggested that HFCS, particularly those in soft drinks, are at least partly responsible for the obesity epidemic in America.
Drink a Lot of Sweet Drinks? Your Weight May be at Risk
According to an analysis of food consumption patterns from 1967 to 2000 by Bray and colleagues, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Bray said, "In examining this data, the importance of the rising intake of high-fructose corn syrup was obvious. It did not exist before 1970. From that point, there was a rapid rise in this country in its use during the late 1970s and 1980s coincidental with the epidemic of obesity." He goes on:
"Unlike glucose, fructose does not stimulate insulin secretion or enhance leptin production. Because insulin and leptin act as key afferent signals in the regulation of food intake and body weight, this suggests that dietary fructose may contribute to increased energy intake and weight gain. Furthermore, calorically sweetened beverages may enhance caloric overconsumption. Thus, the increase in consumption of HFCS has a temporal relation to the epidemic of obesity, and the overconsumption of HFCS in calorically sweetened beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity."
Another study, this one by researchers at the Children's Hospital Boston, found that every additional 8-ounce soft drink in a day increased school kids' risks of being obese by 60 percent.