High fructose corn syrup, a commercially used sweetener, is surrounded with controversy. It was introduced to the U.S. market in the 1960s and labeled safe for consumption by the FDA in 1983.
Now is used in almost every type of processed food including soft drinks, bread, yogurt, and cereal.
Since high fructose corn syrup’s introduction, American obesity rates have roughly doubled; according to the CDC, about a third of adults are obese and another third are overweight.
The skyrocketing weight problems and associated health risks have led many to believe that high fructose corn syrup is to blame.
Is high fructose corn syrup the culprit for rising obesity, or are poor diets in general more to blame?
It’s hard to know since research seems to be conflicting. That’s to be expected, as a veritable flaw in the sweetener would be a major hit to the food industry in America.
If you’re an average consumer, take a look at both sides and then try to make the best overall decisions for your health.
What High Fructose Corn Syrup Proponents Say
Several major research agencies including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and American Medical Association (AMA) have done ongoing research about high fructose corn syrup.
Overall, they have found that it is safe for consumption. Your body processes it no differently than other common sweeteners like table sugar and honey.
Chemically, the consumption of high fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners is very similar.
As a result, there is no sufficient evidence to restrict the use of high fructose corn syrup in the food supply.
These agencies acknowledge that Americans have weight problems, which lead to health conditions like heart diseases and diabetes.
But high high fructose corn syrup isn’t to blame
Instead of avoiding products with this sweetener entirely, people should examine and change their overall calorie and sugar intake. High fructose corn syrup doesn’t necessarily need to be replaced; It should just be consumed in lower quantities.
What High Fructose Corn Syrup Opponents Say
Some Independent and academic research suggests that, contrary to FDA statements, high fructose corn syrup is harmful to consume.
A 2010 Princeton study published in the Online Journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior found that rats consuming high fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than rats consuming table sugar. (1)
The two groups had similar caloric intakes and the same amount of each sweetener, respectively.
Notably, the high fructose corn syrup solution given to the rats in the study was half as concentrated as most sodas.
Another study by the same researchers found that long-term consumption of high fructose corn syrup led to abnormal increases in body fat, particularly in the abdominal region – as well as blood fats called triglycerides.
Why would high fructose corn syrup cause weight gain while the same amount of sugar doesn’t?
It may be because of the chemical ratio of fructose to glucose in the syrup (55 percent fructose, 42 percent glucose and 3 percent saccharides).
According to the Princeton researchers, while the ratio is only slightly different than it is in table sugar (50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose), it may be enough to affect metabolism.
Furthermore, the manufacturing process for high fructose corn syrup leaves some of the fructose molecules unbound.
In contrast, every fructose molecule in table sugar is bound to a glucose molecule, meaning that your body takes an extra metabolic step when processing it.
While further research must be done to prove it, the excess, unbound fructose in high fructose corn syrup may be metabolized to produce more fat.
This is just one research group that challenges mainstream industry findings of high fructose corn syrup.
Other studies have found that the sweetener is problematic because it contains mercury and can also cause high levels of uric acid in the blood.
Groups like the Corn Refiners Association balk at many of these studies because tests done on rats do not necessarily produce the same results in humans.
The jury is still out. Non-biased groups like the Mayo Clinic acknowledge that research about high fructose corn syrup is constantly evolving. Such groups recommend that the best solution is reducing your overall sugar intake.
What to Do
If you’re confused as a consumer, you’re not the only one. It’s hard to know to shop in a whirlwind of marketing and conflicting information. If you’re concerned about your health, here are a few steps you can take:
- Drink less soda. Soft drinks are huge sources of high fructose corn syrup. Even if the controversial syrup isn’t any worse than other sweeteners, you’ll generally benefit from decreasing the empty calories you get from soda.
- Read labels. Food labels list ingredients in order in decreasing amounts. If a product list high fructose corn syrup or any type of sugar within the first two or three ingredients, you’ll probably be better off without it.
- Eat less processed food. The more you prepare your meals, drinks, and snacks, the more you’ll be able to control exactly what’s in them. And if you’re concerned about high fructose corn syrup, you probably won’t be using any of it in your home.