As I talk with friends and family, read health magazines and surf the net, I am hearing more and more about the horrors of High-fructose corn syrup, or HFCS. I hear how it raises blood sugar, increases the fat stored in the abdominal region, and causes everything from alzheimers to cancer and diabetes. And now even the FDA has come down saying that it isn’t a “natural” ingredient (check http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/news/ng.asp?n=84404-fcs-natural. )
But is it that bad? Biochemically, HFCS is has about the same ratio of glucose to fructose as table sugar, or sucrose: about 55% fructose. Once it is broken down and absorbed into the body, there’s not much reason to believe that it behaves that much differently than regular sugar – and that’s what many studies, including a recent one in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, (http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/abstract/87/5/1194) show as well. So why the contradictory research about the ill-health effects? I think it comes down to portions. Because HFCS is relatively cheap, many food producers use it and people consume large quantities of it – roughly 40-44 pounds per person in 2007 according to the USDA. And we all know that large amounts of junk food, whether it’s made with sucrose or HFCS – is not the best thing for the body. Research supports that common-sense conclusion as well.
So should we avoid it? That’s a tough job in today’s processed food world, but minimizing bot HFCS and other kinds of sugars has always been sound advice if you’re watching your calories and trying to eat a nutrient-dense diet. Check the nutrition facts label first – 4 grams of sugar equals 1 teaspoon, or 15 empty calories, regardless of what type of sugar it is. If the label shows more than 10 grams of sugar per serving, you’re probably better off leaving it on the shelf.