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high fructose corn syrup: why you should avoid it

There are lots of great books with chapters about corn, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and why it’s bad for your body, so I won’t write too many details in this post (see links to books below). But if you aren’t interested in reading those resources (here are some links to research articles on Wikipedia), I’ll give you some quick sound bytes of facts. This way you can fight back against those commercials (paid for by corn producers) that would have you believe that just because you can’t remember what’s bad about HFCS, it must be ok!

Here are your quick sound bytes:

  • HFCS is metabolized more slowly than sugar and isn’t able to be processed normally by the pancreas, which can lead to diabetes.
  • You won’t feel full when you eat HFCS, which can cause you to overeat and has contributed to the current obesity trend.

If you are interested in learning a bit more about the above facts, the following paragraph is written by a MD and comes from this webpage. It gives the information in basically the same way I would, so I’m including a direct quote:

"Food manufacturers like high fructose corn syrup because it’s cheap, it’s super sweet and it has a long shelf life.

Unfortunately, once it’s in your body, there isn’t much good to say about it. It disrupts your metabolism and puts you at higher risk for diabetes in many ways.

Once upon a time, doctors actually recommended fructose to people with diabetes because your body absorbs it more slowly. It also doesn’t cause the same spikes in blood sugar that glucose does. It turns out that these "benefits" are actually part of the reason behind the dangers of HFCS.

Your body absorbs fructose more slowly because it has to be metabolized by the liver, unlike glucose, which can be absorbed and used by every cell in your body. Because it’s only metabolized in the liver, fructose doesn’t trigger insulin production in the pancreas. So, rather than being used by the cells, fructose is usually stored as fat.

High fructose corn syrup is so hard on your liver that it can actually cause nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). One of the complications of NAFLD is insulin resistance.

In order to use fructose, your body must contribute a number of minerals such as magnesium, copper, and chromium. Depletion of these minerals, especially chromium, interferes with insulin production and use… and that’s the first step toward diabetes. HFCS also impairs the function of insulin receptors on your cells. That leads to insulin resistance, and again, a higher risk of diabetes.

Finally, when you eat HFCS, it doesn’t make you feel full. People who eat a lot of HFCS-containing foods are likely to consume more calories and become overweight or obese. Obesity is another risk factor for diabetes."

Although a few studies have determined HFCS is the same "nutritionally" as sugar, there isn’t enough of an evidence base to prove this theory. And even if it is the same as sugar, I think it’s best not to eat a lot of sugar either! I’m proud to say that at 2 years old, Genevieve has still never had a sip of juice and doesn’t know the meaning of the word (don’t ask me about french fries). Even all-natural juice provides only empty calories when compared to the fiber provided in eating whole fruit. I think it’s a good idea to cut back in sugar too.

I certainly don’t place all the blame for rising rates of obesity and diabetes on HFCS; increased serving sizes and levels of highly processed food, combined with less physical activity, carry their fair share of culpability. But my beef with HFCS doesn’t stop with the nutritional consequences. I am also fed up with America’s strange love affair with corn and am ready for the country to cut off the subsidization of the crop. Until then, we will continue to see corn in nearly 100% of processed food.

You can read more about HFCS and the history of corn in these books, which I highly recommend:

1. Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser

2. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan.

I also recommend watching the documentary "Food Inc," as it provides some visual aids to some of the points of both of the books above. "Supersize Me" is another great documentary, well worth watching if you still haven’t seen it yet. A movie was also made of Fast Food Nation, but I would recommend reading the book instead. Happy food hunting!

Author’s Note: About a year after I published this post, the New York Times covered the topic of the toxicity of sugar. Clearly, there is more to worry about than just HFCS.

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