Myth Buster Month – High Fructose Corn Syrup
According to TV commercials (below) sponsored by the Corn Refiners Association and sweetsurprise.com, HFCS is nutritionally the SAME as table sugar.
What do you think, fact or fiction? Let’s take a look…
First let’s look at how HFCS and sucrose (table sugar) are similar:
- Both contain 4 calories per gram.
- Both consist of a combination of glucose and fructose:
- Sucrose = 50% glucose + 50% fructose
- HFCS42 = 42% fructose + 53% glucose + 5% polysaccharides
- HFCS55 = 55% fructose + 42% glucose + 3% polysaccharides
Next, let’s look at how HFCS and sucrose are different:
- HFCS and sucrose are made using entirely different methods.
I believe it is really important to understand where our food comes from, so this section is rather in-depth. Pretend, the following is an episode of “How Its Made”.
Sucrose is made from either sugar cane (70% of sugar) or sugar beets (30% of sugar). The process for each is slightly different.
Steps to create sucrose from sugar cane: grow, harvest, extract juice via crushing the sugar cane stalks (the leftover cane fiber is saved and used to generate future energy), boil juice, evaporate water, sugar crystals grow, and raw sugar forms. This sugar is then shipped to a refinery where it is cleaned and decolored forming white table sugar and molasses. Steps to create sucrose from sugar beets – grow, harvest, slice beets, diffuse beets in hot water, press beets to extract juice, remove impurities, boil juice, evaporate water, sugar crystals grow, and white table sugar is formed. Note that in the creation of sucrose by either method no additives or enzymes are used.
HFCS is made using yellow dent corn. This type of corn has a higher starch content than the sweet corn we eat as a vegetable. Yellow dent corn has an extremely hard outer layer, making it inedible in traditional form. It is used only in the manufacturing of grain products, animal feed, and the production of HFCS. To produce HFCS yellow dent corn is first heated and soaked in order to soften the kernels. Following this, the corn is kernel is separated to extract the starch. The enzyme alpha-amylase is used to breakdown the starch into glucose. Glucose is changed into fructose using the enzyme glucoamlyase. Lastly, another enzyme glucose-isomerase is used to create a part glucose, part fructose mixture. The first two enzymes are naturally occurring, however, for the purpose of producing HFCS they are made in a lab from bacteria and fungi. The third enzyme, glucose-isomerase is a synthetic enzyme.
Are you still with me? In short, the production of sucrose is a 100% natural, mechanical process that does not employ the use of enzymes or additives. The production of HFCS is a chemical process that requires natural and synthetic enzymes.
- HFCS and sucrose are not digested in the same way.
Because your brain is probably still reeling from reading about enzymes, I won’t explain the entire digestive process to you; I’ll just point out the primary differences.
Sucrose goes through a series of processes as it is broken down in the body. As it is absorbed sucrose requires insulin which helps the body to utilize absorbed energy from carbohydrates. Insulin also triggers leptin, a hormone which regulates hunger and consumption, to be released. Leptin, signals to the brain when the body is full.
HFCS requires one less step than sucrose does as it is absorbed. It also does not require insulin. Because insulin is not used, leptin is not triggered and the body is unable to tell when it should stop eating. The lack of ability for the body to tell when it is full, coupled with fast absorption rate, creates an alluring environment for increased fat storage.
- HFCS is likely a genetically modified product.
In the United States 86% of corn produced is genetically modified (GM). A GM food is one which has been genetically engineered to perform a certain way, in a particular environment. Therefore, it is EXTREMELY likely (if not certain) that the corn used in the production of HFCS is in fact GM. However, the Corn Refiners Association states that corn is not a GM food (although GM crops may be used) because no corn DNA remains present in HFCS.
It is highly likely that HFCS begins as GM corn. Whether or not it truly remains a GM food after extensive processing and the removal of corn DNA to form HFCS is unconfirmed at this point in time. I’ll let you as the reader draw your own conclusions.
- HFCS is subsidized by the government.
As corn is a government subsidized crop in the United States, one can only assume that HFCS, a direct byproduct is also subsidized. However, the Corn Refiners Association claims that this is not the case a for the production of “HFCS”.
So… the production of corn is subsidized. HFCS is made from subsidized corn… however, HFCS is “not” subsidized? I’m confused. Again, I will let you as readers draw your own (obvious) conclusions.
THE RESULTS: Our body does not recognize HFCS and sucrose as they same and they are made entirely different from one another, from different plant sources. Weighing the similarities and differences of these two products, it is safe to say that this myth is BUSTED. While similar, HFCS and sucrose are not the same.
According to both the American Medical Association and the American Dietetic Association, HFCS does not contribute to obesity any more than other high-sugar foods.
All of the above information aside, I do not believe that HFCS alone is to blame for America’s obesity crisis and increased incidence in diabetes, as it often associated. Surely HFCS is a factor and I would 100% prefer for it to not exist. However, the American diet is so heavily saturated with simple carbohydrates such as sugar, HFCS, and refined grains, as well as high fat foods, that we as a culture are in dire need of a change in what we eat.
The bottom line is that until HFCS has been around long enough for to prove if it truly is harmful or not, it is here to stay because it makes foods cheaper and easier to make. It is up to us as consumers to make informed healthy choices. At the end of the day, everything comes back to: consumption of a balanced, healthful, low-fat diet with lots of fruits and vegetables; 30+ minutes per day of physical activity; and consuming high-fat and high-sugar foods in moderation.
On that note, I will leave you with a short clip from one of my most favorite food documentaries King Corn and a brief interview with Curt Ellis one of the filmmakers. I believe it sums up everything and more, far better than I ever could!
- American Dietetic Association. High fructose corn syrup and weight status. (2008). Retrieved from http://www.sweetsurprise.com/sites/default/files/ADAHotTopicHFCS.pdf.
- American Medical Association. AMA finds high fructose syrup unlikely to be more harmful to health than other caloric sweeteners. (2008). Retrieved from http://www.sweetsurprise.com/sites/default/files/AMARelease6-17-08.pdf.
- Corn Refiners Association. Sweet Surprise. Retrieved from http://www.sweetsurprise.com.
- Diabetes Health. The Dangers of High Fructose Corn Syrup. Retrieved from http://www.diabeteshealth.com/read/2008/08/20/4274/the-dangers-of-high-fructose-corn-syrup/.
- Heartland Science. Yellow Dent Corn. Retrieved from http://www.heartlandscience.org/agrifood/yelcorn.htm.
- Sugar Knowledge International. How Sugar is Made. Retrieved from http://www.sucrose.com/learn.html.
* Reposted from Chew With Your Mouth Open, Chelsey’s foodie blog.