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High Fructose Corn Syrup

Updated on February 4, 2013
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

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:

  • Sweetener
  • Thickener
  • Keeps foods moist
  • Soften texture
  • Prohibit crystallization
  • Enhance flavor
  • Extends shelf life
  • Maintains freshness

Some Foods That Contain HFCS

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Bread products often contain high fructose corn syrup to increase shelf life.Catsup has about 1 teaspoon sugar (high fructose corn syrup) for every tablespoon.  Thats a ratio of 1:2Of course, candy and other snacks contain HFCS.Yogurt can be all natural and even low fat yet still contain high fructose corn syrupChildren eat the most HFCS because of the amount of commercially prepared foods that they eat.  Fast food is especially bad.
Bread products often contain high fructose corn syrup to increase shelf life.
Bread products often contain high fructose corn syrup to increase shelf life.
Catsup has about 1 teaspoon sugar (high fructose corn syrup) for every tablespoon.  Thats a ratio of 1:2
Catsup has about 1 teaspoon sugar (high fructose corn syrup) for every tablespoon. Thats a ratio of 1:2
Of course, candy and other snacks contain HFCS.
Of course, candy and other snacks contain HFCS.
Yogurt can be all natural and even low fat yet still contain high fructose corn syrup
Yogurt can be all natural and even low fat yet still contain high fructose corn syrup
Children eat the most HFCS because of the amount of commercially prepared foods that they eat.  Fast food is especially bad.
Children eat the most HFCS because of the amount of commercially prepared foods that they eat. Fast food is especially bad.

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.

Genetic Modification

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:  

  • Anemia
  • High cholesterol
  • Heart problems
  • Delayed testicular development
  • In humans HFCS has been linked to:
  • Diabetes
  • 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.

 

Comments

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    • profile image

      peacefulparadox 

      8 years ago

      That is a good video. But I think the video should explain to us the reason why HFCS is so bad. So that next time we turn down HFCS and someone asks why, we can have an intelligent answer.

      In any case, I think one should limit both our HFCS intake as well as natural sugar intake. That is because sugar causes a spike in our insulin levels and causes inflammation response in the body. Chronic inflammation is not good for the body in general.

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 

      8 years ago from Ohio, USA

      What volumes of HFCS were fed to the rats?

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