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High Fructose Corn Syrup- The Silent but Deadly Ingredient

Updated on September 13, 2011

What you don't know can kill you...slowly

Since the 1970’s High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) has been a key ingredient in soda, juices, bread, cereals and tons of processed foods. HFCS did not exist before the 1970’s. From that point on, there was a rapid rise in this country in its use. This rise coincided with the start of the obesity epidemic. Americans ate about a half pound of HFCS per person per year. By 1997, we were consuming up to 62-1/2 pounds each, according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. That's 228 calories per person per day, and that figure is based on ‘6 -year-old’ numbers; consumption has almost certainly risen since then. Over the same period, the obesity rate has more than doubled. The increase of HFCS consumption far exceeded changes in intake of any other food or food group.

HFCS is produced by milling corn into corn starch, then processing that starch to yield corn syrup, which is almost entirely glucose (one part of sugar) and then adding enzymes that change most of the glucose into fructose. The enzyme process is excessive and puts HFCS in the ‘no longer natural’ category.

Why is HFCS used today to replace sugar? Manufacturers say it is cheaper to produce and use in food manufacturing, than cane or beet sugars. A system of sugar tariffs and sugar quotas imposed in 1977 in the US significantly increased the cost of imported sugar and US producers sought cheaper sources. In a free market, beet and cane sugar would win hands down in cost of production and market dominance.

So this has us sacrificing our environment as well as our bodies. Today, corn is the world’s most widely planted cereal crop. Bush signed a $190 billion farm bill. Under this program, taxpayers will pay farmers $4 billion a year to grow even more corn, this despite the fact that we struggle to get rid of the surplus the plant already produces. Beef cattle eat corn and it wreaks havoc on their digestive system, making them need to be fed antibiotics to stave off illness and infection. Chicken, pigs and even salmon are fed corn. Why feed salmon corn? Because it is the cheapest thing you can feed an animal, thanks to federal subsidies.

Corn is also the greediest of plants, demanding more nitrogen fertilizer than any other crop. Producing these chemicals takes a vast amount of oil and natural gas. (Nitrogen fertilizer from natural gas and pesticides from oil). The corn crop is a huge, inefficient polluting machine that uses tons of fossil fuel; half a gallon of it for every bushel.

Another important note is that corn requires more pesticides than any other food crop and run off from these chemicals find their way into the groundwater in the Midwestern Corn Belt and into the Mississippi River, which carries them to the Gulf of Mexico, where it has already killed off marine life in a 12,000 square mile radius. Another environmental hazard specifically related to HFCS is that it is harmful to bees. We feed high fructose corn syrup to bees too. Farmers are selling all their honey for profit and leaving nothing left for the bees to eat. So, naturally what is the alternative, with all the corn fields around…HFCS; the possible cause of Colony Collapse Disorder, a mysterious disease that has killed at least one-third of the honeybee population in the U.S. HFCS at a raised temperature takes the form of hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), that is deadly to honeybees. Honeybees are what allow us to grow produce… If HFCS isn’t healthy for adults, what makes us think it is healthy for bees. Who will pollinate our fruit, vegetables and flowers...what will become of us without the bees.

So let’s get to the effect it has on our bodies.One of the latest discoveries by scientists showed the presence of mercury in some commercial high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), an ingredient used in many popular processed foods. In products tested, 17 out of 55 were positive for Mercury. Mercury is toxic in all of its forms and exposure to it has been linked to an increase in birth defects, problems during pregnancy, mental retardation, kidney, lung and immune system problems. Given how much HFCS is consumed by children, something needs to be done immediately to help stop this avoidable mercury contamination of the food supply.

Nearly 10% of calories Americans consume now come from corn sweeteners and the figure is closer to 20% for many children. HFCS is in soft drinks, candy, crackers, lunch meat, fruit juices, chocolate milk, and all natural fruit snacks, just to name a few. What does this amount of HFCS do to your body? Your body processes the sugar in HFCS differently than in cane or beet sugars, which in turn alters your body’s natural ability to regulate appetite. Your digestive system has two main hormones that control hunger and appetite. Ghrelin is secreted by the stomach and increases your appetite. When your stomach is empty, it sends ghrelin out, requesting food. The hormone Leptin tells your brain that you’re full. HFCS inhibits leptin secretion, so you never get the message that you’re full, and HFCS never shuts off ghrelin, so even though you have food in your stomach, you constantly get the message you’re hungry. Higher fructose in the diet also decreases the amount of iron, magnesium, calcium and zinc in our bodies. It also inhibits copper metabolism…a deficiency in copper leads to bone fragility, anemia, defects of the connective tissue, arteries, and bone, infertility, heart arrhythmias, high cholesterol levels, heart attacks, and an inability to control blood sugar levels.

HFCS also metabolizes differently than other sugars, making it potentially more harmful. This is how it works: you eat something with HFCS and the sugar goes to your liver for processing. There it is broken down into smaller components and eventually breaks down completely. All sugars are managed like this through the body. The problem is HFCS uses a lot more of the cell’s energy to breakdown and leaves the cell with less energy to properly metabolize other foods. In addition, the breakdown process of HFCS causes an increase in lipid levels and triglycerides (chemicals where fat exists) in the blood and within the cell itself, causing the fat to fill the cell. This gives it the link to an increased risk of obesity and heart disease.

In one study of 548 ethnically diverse eleven year olds, that were evaluated over a 19 month span, fifty-seven percent increased their intake of soda and calories from just one soda a day. This increased a child chance of becoming obese by 60%. Each daily drink was linked to an increase of .18 points to a child’s Body Mass Index (BMI).This increase was regardless of what else they ate or how much they exercised.

We would never think to give are kids anything that would harm them. With HFCS that is exactly what we are doing. Consuming HFCS leads to fatty liver, high blood lipids and triglycerides, high blood insulin levels and a continued craving to eat even when the body doesn’t need any more calories. This is a recipe for central body obesity, heart disease, diabetes and liver failure from fatty deposits. This is exactly the outcome you get when alcohol is consumed…minus the intoxicating effect.

We wouldn’t dream of giving our kids alcohol, but as it turns out, HFCS is metabolized in the exact same way, with the same damage done, calorie for calorie. So think of that the next time you or someone you know has a soda, or three or more (the average for a teenage boy). Ten percent of teenage boys have seven or more a day. Teenage girls have two or more a day…with ten percent up to five a day.

So spend that extra minute and read your labels. You could be helping your health or the health of your loved ones. Other countries, including Mexico, don’t use HFCS in their soft drinks. Because money talks, the U.S. has been putting HFCS in Pepsi and Coke since 1984.

The Real High Fructose Corn Syrup Commercial


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    • EmerKelly profile image

      Emer Kelly 

      6 years ago from Saint Petersburg, Florida

      Great hub. I'm from Ireland, where HFCS is banned. I had never even heard of it before moving to the USA and I was shocked and horrified that such a thing is legal here. However, it's not something that is crazy difficult to avoid and I've managed here for over a year without ever consuming it. If more people avoided it and stopped passively supporting it, its value would fall and maybe companies would stop using it. Awareness is the key to this, so thanks for posting such an interesting and informative hub!


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