High fructose corn syrup, or HFCS, certainly has been given a lot of attention recently (Environmental Nutrition, November 2008). The increase in obesity coinciding with HFCS in the diet has made HFCS a scapegoat by associating it with obesity, diabetes, cancer, dental problems and elevated blood lipids (maybe even dirty sinks). Cause and effect have not yet been proved.
HFCS was developed to produce sweetness at a lower cost. HFCS is corn syrup (glucose) processed to increase the fructose content and then reblended with pure corn syrup. The two most common blends are:•HFCS 55 (soft drinks), 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose.
•HFCS 42 (baked goods), 42 percent fructose and 58 percent glucose.
Sucrose (table sugar) is 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose. The primary difference between HFCS and sucrose is that glucose and fructose exist as individual units in HFCS, but chemically joined unit in sucrose. Both contain the same calories (20 calories per teaspoon).
Fructose metabolizes differently than glucose, resulting in lower insulin and leptin levels. These hormones regulate satiety (feeling of fullness). Lower insulin and leptin decrease satiety, leading to overconsumption. Fructose increases triglyceride levels when overconsumed, increasing the risk for heart disease. HFCS is not pure fructose but contains glucose the same as table sugar.
Short-term studies say consuming either HFCS or sucrose does not produce a difference in hunger, satiety, satiety hormones, perceived sweetness or subsequent food intakes. There is a need for more long-term studies.
Defining HFCS as "natural" is highly debated. The Food and Drug Administration states HFCS can be called "natural" when synthetic fixing agents do not come into contact with it during processing. Previously, the Food and Drug Administration said HFCS could not be labeled as "natural." The problem arises from the fact that the FDA has no official definition of "natural," and HFCS is highly processed. The more important issue is not whether HFCS is natural, but that added sugar in any form can be problematic in excess.
Excess calories, lack of physical activity, genetics and environment lead to weight gain. It is not accurate to label a single nutrient as the single cause for obesity and other health-related problems. HFCS should be consumed with caution because these foods tend to be higher in calories and lower in nutrients compared to less-processed foods. Long-term effects have not been determined.
If you are trying to avoid HFCS, sometimes it seems like you are reading every label in the grocery store - salad dressings, breads, ketchup - but it is getting easier. Reading labels is still the way to know. There are a growing number of foods without added HFCS:•Rudi's bread and Orowheat bread (all varieties).
•Tropicana orange juice.
•Kashi TLC granola bars.
•Heinz tomato ketchup (organic).
•Mountain High yogurt (all varieties).
•Dannon All Natural vanilla yogurt.
All sugars should be consumed in moderation. On labels, ingredients are listed in descending order by weight.
As always, your best approach is to select a variety of least-processed foods with the most color to achieve the greatest, nutrient-dense, least-expensive and truest form of calories.
email@example.com or 247-4355.
Wendy Rice is family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office.