High Fructose Corn Syrup: How Sweet It Isn't

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Filed Under: General Health
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

High Fructose Corn Syrup: How Sweet It Isn't

Fructose acts like sucrose, if not worse

As Americans (and the rest of the world’s people) keep getting heavier and heavier, the health care industry continually looks for ways to turn around the current trend of obesity. However, one of the big changes to modern diets that has remained largely unaddressed is the addition of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

Starting as a cost-saving measure in the early 1970s, manufacturers begin to substitute this fructose for sugar in processed foods such as soda and candy, but they didn’t stop there. Nowadays, it’s even plentiful in foods labeled as “natural” and “healthy”—including many types of bread, whole grain cereals, fruit juices, energy bars, spaghetti sauces, and an endless variety of snacks. If you eat any processed foods—and we all do—it’s practically impossible to avoid all HFCS-sweetened products.

At one time, fructose was thought to be a healthy sugar substitute, since it is the same type of sugar found in fruits and some vegetables and doesn't seem to raise blood sugar levels or insulin secretion following ingestion. What makes this unfortunate is that the manufacturers' claims about fructose are only half-right. It's true that fructose consumed in fresh, whole fruits doesn't cause spikes in blood sugar. While the sweetness in fruits is from fructose, this sugar is present in only very small amounts and nature binds it with complex plant fibers and other nutrients and minerals. As such, fructose-containing fruits (and vegetables) help prevent cardiovascular and other health problems.

But research has revealed that when fructose is extracted from the fruit and used in processed foods, it acts just like sucrose…if not worse! When you ingest fructose, rather than staying in the bloodstream like sugar, it gets shuttled directly to your liver. In the liver, it becomes one of the building blocks of triglycerides, which are fat-storage molecules. Triglycerides are released into the bloodstream, carried by LDL cholesterol, and deposited on the walls of the arteries. Research has shown that one of the quickest ways to raise triglyceride levels in animals is to feed them a diet high in fructose (the amount of fructose given to animals is comparable to that now found in the diet of many Americans).

Another adverse effect of HFCS is that it impairs your body’s ability to recognize when it is full. Studies from the University of Pennsylvania demonstrate this idea beyond just a theory and unveil the exact mechanism of how this process takes place.

As I mentioned before, fructose doesn’t stimulate an increase in insulin the way most sugars do—a side effect HFCS producers would like to market as a benefit. However, it also does not cause an increase in the compound leptin, a protein hormone that plays a key role in regulating appetite and metabolism. The problem is that increases in these substances signal the body’s central nervous system to stop eating. In addition to fructose not stimulating these natural body cues induced by insulin and leptin, fructose boosts the level of another related hormone, ghrelin, which enhances the desire to eat more. In simple terms, fructose completely disrupts your body’s natural ability to tell when you’re satisfied and should stop eating—which ultimately leads to weight gain and obesity.

Consuming HFCS has another serious downside. A couple of years ago, I wrote about the process called glycation, where sugar combines with various amino acids in your body to create what are referred to as advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs). AGEs are thought to be permanent, and they accumulate throughout the body, accelerating the aging process and causing all kinds of problems. AGEs result in cataracts, blockages in blood vessels, kidney problems, and possibly even Alzheimer's disease.

High levels of HFCS contribute to increased levels of glycation in the body. If the general public ever understands what high fructose is doing to their bodies, health manufacturers may be forced to stop using it. As with many of these experiments on our health, however, a couple of generations will probably have to suffer from a few new unexplained “syndromes” before medical authorities finally figure out what's happening. You can do yourself a favor by not following the crowd on this one and eliminating the sweets now.

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