High Fructose Corn Syrup
Check the ingredient list on almost any package of food and you will see the words, high fructose corn syrup. It is in bread, soda, canned fruit, and even some brands of milk. What is this corn syrup and why is it increasingly in the news?
Decades ago manufacturers found that corn syrup was a less expensive alternative to sugar. They began to substitute it for sugar in products. The flavor changed a little but most consumers did not even notice that it was happening.
Corn syrup, both regular and high fructose, is used for the following:
- Keeps foods moist
- Soften texture
- Prohibit crystallization
- Enhance flavor
- Extends shelf life
- Maintains freshness
Some Foods That Contain HFCSClick thumbnail to view full-size
What Is High Fructose Corn Syrup
Although regular corn syrup had been in use for years the process for making the high fructose type of corn syrup (HFCS) was developed in the 1970s. By the late 1990s the use of sugar had significantly declined, a trend that continues. In fact Americans eat 1,000 times more HFCS now than they did in the 1970s. Average intake is 63 pounds per year per person.
How does the syrup get from the corn field to the bread you eat?
Corn, genetically modified corn, is processed to create corn starch. The corn starch is then processed to produce glucose, which in turn goes through more processing to produce high fructose syrup. This is accomplished by the action of three different enzymes on the corn starch.
Alpha-amylase is used to create shorter chains of sugars, polysaccharides.
Glucoamylase breaks the chains down further, creating glucose.
Glucose-isomerase converts glucose to a forty-two percent fructose and a fifty-two percent glucose mixture.
The liquid has not yet turned into the HFCS that manufacturers depend on. It must be taken through two more complicated processes before it is at the high fructose concentration of fifty-five percent.
You might think that with all of the processing and steps it takes to create the HFCS it would be expensive but that is not so. One of the arguments used by manufacturers is that this type of corn syrup keeps prices lower for consumers.
The syrup is then transported by tanker trucks to various manufacturers who enjoy the high profit margin from this substance.
All the way through the production of manufactured corn syrup there is the theme of genetically modified substances starting with the genetically modified corn that is grown for it. Both the alpha-amylase and glucose-isomerase have been genetically modified so that they will be stable during the processing of the HFCS.
But It Is All Natural, Isn’t It?
High fructose corn syrup is all natural and there are those that believe that means healthy. Nutritionists are starting to disagree.
Studies with rats have shown that rats on high fructose diets showed consistent health problems while those on glucose (sugar) did not. Some of the health problems in the list may seem familiar:
Male rats were the most affected. Many of them did not reach adulthood. Some of the diseases that afflicted them were:
- High cholesterol
- Heart problems
- Delayed testicular development
- In humans HFCS has been linked to:
- High cholesterol
- Blood clots
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
- Lowered immune function
Recent studies have suggested that high fructose corn syrup may be high in Mercury.
There are conflicting studies that state that HFCS is not more likely than sugar to cause health problems. The fact is that the studies were funded by special interest groups like the Corn Refiners Association and the beverage industry who stand to lose a lot of money if HFCS was no longer able to be used.
The smartest thing you can do is to do the research yourself and come to your own conclusions about the safety of this substance. The only way to stay away from it is to stay away from processed food, read labels carefully, and be a wise consumer.
Websites of Interest
HFCS FactsThis is a website that claims to tell the facts about HFCS, giving it a positive slant. It should be noted that the website is funded and maintained by the Corn Refiners Association.
Sprol Some interesting facts here. The author points out that the obesity epidemic in the United States is in direct relation to the increase in HFCS use.
Accidental Hedonist has a list of foods containing HFCS.
From the Washington Post HFCS/Mercury study.
Whatever you decide it is a good idea to use less processed foods and read labels carefully.