High-fructose corn syrup is a potent sugar substitute made from corn starch. It’s actually twice as sweet as sugar. Manufacturers began using it as a cheap sugar substitute in the 1970s when the price of sugar shot up. High-fructose corn syrup now accounts for 40 percent of the caloric sweeteners added to foods and drinks.
Americans down about 132 calories’ worth of high-fructose corn syrup a day, mainly in sodas and fruit drinks. That’s a lot. By simply slashing 132 calories daily, you can lose about 13 pounds a year without doing anything else.
But calories aren’t the real concern with high-fructose corn syrup. This is: It seems to make us pig out in two ways. First, when soda manufacturers switched from sugar to high-fructose corn syrup, they used the same quantity by volume, so sodas today are actually much sweeter than they were 30 years ago. Regular exposure to their intense sweetness can make you crave other sweet foods too.
Second, your body metabolizes high-fructose corn syrup differently. Unlike other sweeteners, high-fructose corn syrup doesn’t produce a normal rise in insulin after a meal, which prevents the usual levels of hormone called leptin. Leptin makes you feel full so you stop eating. Too little leptin, and you eat too much.
High-Fructose Corn Syrup Ads
Maybe you’ve seen the pro-high-fructose corn syrup ads running on television. First, the ads say that high-fructose corn syrup is no worse than sugar. Well, that’s like saying cigars are no worse than cigarettes. Second, the ads say high-fructose corn syrup is natural because it’s made from corn. But, so is ethanol, and I’m not slurping down that either.
Let me set the record straight. High-fructose corn syrup is a cheap gooey sweetener used in soft drinks, meats, cheeses and dozens of other foods. Recent studies have raised many health concerns about the syrup.
Here are some facts about high-fructose corn syrup:
- High-fructose corn syrup is linked to obesity. A steadily rising consumption of high-fructose corn syrup parallels closely with a rise in obesity. Also, high-fructose corn syrup very quickly turns into body fat, in some cases never even yielding energy for the body to use. One can of soda a day (the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar) can lead to a 10-pound fat gain in just one year.
- High-fructose corn syrup increases triglycerides, recognized risk factor for heart disease. Also, people with elevated triglycerides overproduce a chemical component called the superoxide free radical. This molecular pickpocket can damage a variety of cell structures, including DNA, and is thought to promote aging.
- It raises blood pressure, another risk for heart disease.
- High-fructose corn syrup causes the body to over produce insulin. High insulin is one of the earliest signs of type 2 diabetes.
- High-fructose corn syrup is linked to the risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. This is the most prevalent form of progressive liver disease in the United States. In this disease, the liver gets inflamed and scarred. At that point, it can cause cirrhosis or liver cancer and ultimately liver failure.
- High-fructose corn syrup was shown in a small study to make pancreatic cancer cells proliferate. Scientists put these cancer cells in lab dishes and fed them glucose and fructose (fructose is a sugar in high-fructose corn syrup). The cells gobbled up the fructose and left the glucose alone.
Should you be consuming less high-fructose corn syrup? Yes! Limit your intake of all added sweeteners, including high-fructose corn syrup, fructose, sucrose (table sugar), glucose and corn syrup. In fact, as a doctor, I’d also suggest you skip soft drinks and fruit drinks all together. From all the research I have done, I recommend avoiding high-fructose corn syrup as much as possible.