We all love a bit of controversy, don’t we? And if debate is something you’re after, high-fructose corn syrup certainly has it all being an area of intense debate now for years.
The food manufacturers love affair with this ‘delectable’ sweetener began back in the 1970s, with consumption increasing at a shocking rate to more than 1000% between 1970 and 1990.
Not surprisingly, this increase in uptake far exceeds changes in intake of any other food, or food group.
The suggested health problems associated with high-fructose corn syrup are wide, varied and often extreme. However, the evidence is unclear at present, and it’s certain we need more research before the debate can be put to rest.
One of the main concerns is that fructose is metabolised in a different way to that of cane or beet sugar. As a result it doesn’t stimulate insulin secretion, and therefore there is no secretion of leptin (which helps control hunger). The end result is that our bodies are essentially tricked into wanting to eat more.
Corn syrups adversary’s go as far as blaming this increased consumption for the growing obesity epidemic. The theory is that fructose is more readily converted to fat by the liver, therefore increasing the levels of fat in our bloodstream.
I’m definitely not a fan of high-fructose corn syrup, however I do wonder if the real problem is more closely related to our increased calorie intake, rather than the type of sugar per se.
Dietary guidelines recommend limiting sugar intake to around 8 teaspoons a day (2,000 calorie diet). If we consider a bottle of soft drink contains 240 calories, and more than 15 teaspoons of sugars, it’s clear these recommendations can easily be exceeded!
The bottom line is excess calories cause weight gain, whether they come from high-fructose corn syrup, or another form of sugar.
Sources of high-fructose corn syrup
Unfortunately, high-fructose corn syrup is so inexpensive, and versatile that it has crept into many foods you probably don’t even suspect.
Next time you go to the supermarket take a look at food labels on these common culprits:
- Soft drinks
- Fruit-flavoured beverages
- Fruit canned in syrup
- Ketchup and BBQ sauces
- Jam and syrups
- Frozen foods
- Popsicles/ice pops
- Salad dressing
- Jarred pasta sauce
- Canned soup
- Highly sweetened breakfast cereals
- Fruit flavoured yoghurt
- Frozen yoghurt
- Many processed foods
The fact is, many of the foods containing high-fructose corn syrup have a poor nutritional value, but as noted above this may not always be the case – I certainly didn’t expect to see this sweetener listed in bread or frozen foods.
Generally speaking though, you can reduce your intake of high-fructose corn syrup by avoiding processed foods, eliminating soft drinks, and opting for healthy whole foods most of the time.
It’s important that you take time out to read labels carefully, and notice what foods you’re putting into your body. This is not always easy in our busy lives, but it’s the only way to be completely sure we’re not consuming unhealthy food without even knowing it.
If you check the ingredients list and find high-fructose corn syrup is one of the top ingredients, this food isn’t your best choice.
At the end of the day, we already eat excessive amounts of refined sugars, be it sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, or any other refined sugar, so making a rule to steer clear of high-fructose corn syrup can’t be a bad thing!
I think the real concern is not whether the sweetener will lead to XYZ health problems, it’s more about facing the fact that we are simply consuming too many calories from the wrong sources.
What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you!