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The Skinny On: High Fructose Corn Syrup

When I started reading food labels, way back when, I must admit that I thought high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) was made out of fruit, because of the "fructose," as well as corn. Now that I have been schooled over the years, I know that this sweetener is made from cornstarch that goes through a serious amount of processing.


The Corn Refiners Association has started the sweet surprise ad campaign to try to reclaim consumers' hearts and dollars. Corn and all its permutations have been getting a bad rap of late, from sources like the documentary King Corn and Michael Pollan's treatise on eating In Defense of Food. The parallel growth of HFCS consumption and the obesity epidemic is the stuff from which seemingly correct, but nevertheless faulty armchair science is formed. Recent studies have found that HFCS as an ingredient isn't solely to blame for the obesity epidemic, since the human body processes HFCS and sugar in the same way and that they have the same caloric load.

To see how high fructose corn syrup differs from sugar, just read more.

The truth is though that HFCS is not chemically the same as sugar. Sugar is sucrose and HFCS is made from glucose and fructose, but not a single molecule of sucrose. Fructose turns into fat in the liver, which is not healthy because it is not broken down earlier in the digestion process. Fructose has a negative impact on insulin and the hunger hormone leptin creating increased appetite. Even though HFCS is made from cornstarch degraded into glucose by using chemicals or enzymes degraded, then altered again with enzymes to convert fractions of glucose into fructose, it can still be labeled natural according to the FDA. This is as long as no synthetic fixing agents touch the sweet syrup in the manufacturing process.

The truth is that even after all that ecologically devastating processing, HFCS is cheaper to produce than sugar. In fact, the average American consumes 78 pounds of it a year and 500 of it calories a day. Cheap processed ingredients make inexpensive processed foods, and because they are cheap, widely available, with long shelf lives, more and more processed food is eaten. Leading to overeating foods that don't offer much nutritionally.

Once again, moderation is the key when it comes to any sweetener, processed or natural. Just like they say in those sweet surprise ads. If you need some corn in your life, why not just eat straight off the cob?

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