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Avoiding processed foods and making healthier choices is what most consumers are focused on these days. Our preferences for certain ingredients have changed dramatically. High fructose corn syrup has been used as a sweetener in processed foods for decades and is usually visible on labels of our food products.
However, don’t be fooled by deceiving marketing with large labels that display “Natural,” “Sugar-Free”, or “Fat-Free.” Pick up the box, read the label, and focus on the ingredients that are listed first. Manufacturers are required to list ingredients in order of highest to lowest quantity.
What is high fructose corn syrup?
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a liquid sweetener made from corn starch. When corn starch is broken down into individual molecules of glucose (a simple sugar), the end product is corn syrup, which is essentially 100% glucose. Once the corn syrup is made enzymes are added to convert some of the glucose into fructose, another simple sugar. This creates HFCS because it’s high in fructose compared to the pure glucose that is in corn syrup.
High fructose corn syrup is found in almost all foods containing added sugar and is very common in processed foods. Most of the HFCS we eat and drink comes from sugary sodas and juice, however large amounts can also be found in yogurts, canned fruits, boxed desserts, breakfast cereals, and condiments like ketchup.
Why is high fructose corn syrup bad for you?
Excessive consumption of fructose can lead to adverse health conditions, some of which can get very dangerous. The liver is the only organ that can process fructose, but when your liver gets overloaded it turns the fructose into fat. For this reason, over consumption of HFCS contributes to the following.
Fatty liver disease
Consuming high-fructose corn syrup can contribute to increased liver fat because of its high fructose content, which is metabolized differently than other carbs.
A Princeton University study found that high fructose corn syrup causes more weight gain than refined sugar. The study showed that the animal subjects put on more weight eating HFCS than the animals who ate just refined sugar. They also found that ingestion of HFCS leads to an abnormal increase of body fat, especially around the abdominal region.
Type 2 diabetes
The fructose in HFCS is the “bad” fructose, which when consumed excessively leads to decreased insulin sensitivity and limits your body’s ability to regulate fats in the blood. These effects increase your risk of developing type II diabetes.
Atherosclerosis is a narrowing of the arteries and often leads to heart disease. HFCS is known to raise cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which increases your blood pressure. High blood pressure can increase your risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
Like most added sugars, high fructose corn syrup is “empty” calories that contains no nutrients to sustain our bodies. Avoiding high-fructose corn syrup and added sugars may be one of the most effective ways to improve your health and lower your risk of disease.
Fructose in fruit vs. fructose in high fructose corn syrup
Fruit naturally has a lot of fructose in it, however, this type of fructose is very different from the fructose in HFCS. When you eat a piece of fruit, you’re consuming the naturally occurring fructose along with nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Alternatively, when you consume fructose from HFCS you’re ingesting very high concentrations of it without the health components that come from eating fresh fruit.
Deceiving names for high fructose corn syrup
With consumers becoming more health-conscious, they’re steering clear of foods with HFCS. In return, manufacturers are changing the name of HFCS on their packaging to deceive consumers and still make a profit. When reading food labels, be sure to look out for:
- Corn syrup
- Glucose syrup
- Glucose/fructose syrup
- Maize syrup
- Tapioca syrup
- Dahlia syrup
- Fruit fructose
- Crystalline fructose
Always read your labels before purchasing! Big brand Food manufacturers have been trying to rename high fructose corn syrup for years so they can continue to sell their products. Food producers like General Mills’, Hershey’s, and Coca-Cola have all been reported attempting to mask their use of high fructose corn syrup.
Things to avoid
Many foods we grew up on and love contain HFCS or alternative names mentioned above. From fruit juices to cereal, high fructose corn syrup is in foods you might have thought were safe and healthy. Here are some things to lookout for.
Yogurts are often advertised as being a healthy snack that improves gut health, however many brands of yogurt are nothing but sugar bombs. Instead of buying yogurt with added HFCS, opt for plain yogurt or plant-based yogurt (such as coconut yogurt) and add your own toppings.
It’s always important to double check the labels, as certain breads will include HFCS. While it’s most common in white breads, some whole wheat breads might also include HFCS. Other boxed baked goods like cookies, donuts, and muffins will certainly have HFCS in their ingredient list so consume at your own risk.
Many condiments, such as ketchup and salad dressings, often contain high amounts of added sugars. For example, Heintz ketchup is known for being loaded with HFCS as it’s the third ingredient on its label. Make mindful choices and instead opt for the natural and organic brands like Annie’s or Trader Joes.
At the end of the day, it’s important to have balance in your life. It is recommended to limit the amount of added sugar you intake, so save added sugars for the occasional special treat! There’s no need to limit the amount of fruits you intake because they contain the healthy fructose that your body needs. To ensure a healthy diet, be sure to eat whole foods whenever possible to lead a sustainable lifestyle. Visit the American Heart Association’s Added Sugars webpage for more information.
Author bio: Brooke Kelly is a business journalist turned health and wellness enthusiast and blogger. During her spare time, she loves walking her corgi and hiking with friends and family.