High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) has been around since 1970, when it was introduced as an inexpensive cane or beet sugar alternative. This sweetener is made of corn that has been milled into corn starch and then broken down to create corn syrup, which is mostly made of glucose.
In this form, the product is not especially sweet, so acids and enzymes are added for the purpose of converting the glucose into fructose. This makes the product very sweet, indeed.
What You'll Learn Today
What Is High Fructose Corn Syrup?
HFCS is like table sugar in that it is made up of a combination of glucose and fructose, but the concentration levels of these two substances differs from one to another.
Additionally, there are different kinds of HFCS that have different concentrations of fructose. The type most commonly used in drinks and food is HFCS-55. This product is made up of 42% glucose and 55% fructose.
Conversely, HFCS-42 is made up of 42% fructose and 55% glucose. This product is mostly used in carbonated beverages and baked goods.
Yet another iteration is HFCS-90, which is made up of 90% fructose and 10% glucose.
Research that has compared pure glucose with pure fructose is quite interesting, but the application of this sort of research is rather limited in the field of human nutrition because neither of these substances are consumed in isolation in large amounts.
In the past few decades, a very strong case has been made for eliminating this super-sweet, potentially obesity enabling, diabetes triggering sweetener.
Are there any upsides? In this article, we explore the perceived pros and cons of high fructose corn syrup. Read on to learn more.
Is HFCS Good Or Bad?
HFCS is commonly used as a sweetener in soft drinks, snack cakes, candy and a wide variety of other “fun foods”.
Unfortunately, it is also found in many other types of processed foods available on the market today, such as condiments, bread, canned and frozen meats, vegetables, entrees and more.
Greater consumption of HFCS may be partly to blame for the incidence of more health problems and more obesity in the United States and around the world. Even so, there are some upsides to the product.
Pros And Cons Of High Fructose Corn Syrup
- On the upside, the corn from which HFCS is derived is abundant and relatively inexpensive.
- HFCS prolongs the shelf life of foods in which it is used.
- HFCS is economical for the companies that produce processed foods because it is much cheaper than sugar.
- It is cheaper and less labor intensive to manufacture HFCS than sugar.
- When used in food products, HFCS imparts freshness and texture and can take the place of some types of preservatives.
- HFCS dissolves in water quickly.
- In foods that need to be browned or that benefit from crunch, HFCS performs better than sugar.
- On the downside, the corn used to make HFCS is often genetically modified and is usually heavily treated with pesticides.
- Fructose is not a hunger satisfying substance, so those consuming foods and beverages sweetened with it may find themselves consuming more and more in order to feel sated.
- Consuming HFCS tends to cause an increase in body fat and in cholesterol levels.
- HFCS metabolizes into fat more easily than sugar, and because it is in so many products, it is easy to consume far more of it than is advisable on a regular, ongoing basis.
- Large amounts of fructose, which converts into carbohydrates, can overload your liver.
So, Is HFCS Definitely Worse Than Sugar?
Although, HFCS is similar chemically to table sugar, it is thought to be metabolized differently.
While hard evidence as to the health impacts of HFCS is incomplete at this time, it is generally accepted that the product is more detrimental than traditional and natural sweeteners, such as honey, maple syrup, agave syrup, molasses and even plain, white table sugar.
Overall, there is quite a bit of confusion and controversy on the topics of sucrose, fructose and HFCS regarding their effects on health and metabolism.
The data is limited, and much of it is gathered through non-human studies. Quite a bit of the information surrounding the comparison of these sweeteners is simply speculation.
Some scientific commentary has stated that there is a strong link between consumptions of HFCS and increasing rates of obesity.
Even so, a number of studies have suggested that there is no correlation and that HFCS is not metabolized or utilized any differently than sweeteners such as table sugar.
A great number of studies, using a wide variety of methodologies, have resulted in different results when seeking to understand how or whether HFCS increases the risk of metabolic syndrome, heart disease and other negative health conditions.
At this time, a definitive answer to the question of HFCS’ affect on health cannot be given. It will be necessary to perform many more clinical trials and carefully analyze the results to arrive at a final decision.
How Can You Make The Right Choice?
Exercise moderation in all things. It’s important to understand that excessive amounts of any kind of sweetener can be detrimental to your health. All of the more natural sweeteners listed above can contribute to health problems such as:
- Weight Gain
- Heart Disease
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Metabolic Syndrome
- High Triglyceride Levels
No matter what type of sweetener you use, it should amount to no more than ten percent of your daily caloric intake. For women, this typically means that no more than a hundred calories – and for men, no more than one-hundred-fifty calories – a day should come from sweeteners.
Fruit Fructose Vs. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
Frequently Asked Questions
You can rid your body of HFCS’ metabolic effects in as few as nine days when you eliminate (or even very sharply reduce) it in your daily diet.
Small amounts of HFCS consumed occasionally will not hurt you any more than small amounts of granulated sugar consumed occasionally will. The main problem with HFCS is that large amounts of it are in almost everything we consume these days. You have to be a vigilant and dedicated label reader to avoid consuming excessive amounts of it incidentally.
Excessive amounts of HFCS in the long-term can slow your brain down and can negatively impact your ability to learn new information and remember it. This effect can be minimized by adding omega-3-fatty-acids to your daily diet.
Measure-for-measure, the two can be equally damaging. The real difference between the two is cost per measure. As previously noted, the main problem with HFCS is that it is added to almost every food product on the market today, so it’s very hard to avoid consuming too much of it.
Strive to eat a non-processed diet. If your diet is made up of fresh fruits and veggies, plain meats, whole grains, homemade baked goods and beverages such as water, plain tea and coffee and pure fruit juices, no one will have the opportunity to sneak HFCS into your food and drink. When you do use processed foods, read the labels closely and choose those that do not contain HFCS, and while you’re at it, avoid hydrogenated oils as well.
For more information about corn products, here is our guide + video on making corn flour.