There has been recent speculation about the health risks associated with the consumption of high fructose corn syrup. Before 1970, most of the sugar we ate was derived from sugar beets and cane sugar; however, since then sugar derived from corn (high fructose corn syrup) has become a popular sweetener due to the abundance in corn production around the country. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is cheap to produce, sweet, and easy to store – making it an ideal preservative in processed foods to increase their shelf life. HFCS can be found in everything from sodas and bread to pasta sauce and protein bars; take time to read the ingredient labels on the foods you purchase, you will be shocked by how many of them contain HFCS.
The debate about whether or not HFCS causes obesity and childhood diabetes is ongoing. Early studies showed a link between the consumption of beverages containing HFCS and obesity, but recent research suggests that HFCS is not any less healthy than other sweeteners. However, may of these recent studies are conducted by the beverages companies themselves and thus create a bias effect. Ever seen those television commercials marketing HFCS as safe? These commercials are funded by the United States Corn Refiners Association to keep themselves in business and put an end to any negative images associated with HFCS. The media may not always in the best interest of public consumers. See Is Fat or Sugar Making us Fat? to understand the difference in metabolism of table sugar vs. HFCS.
While research has yielded conflicting results about HFCS, it is important to step back and think about where you stand on the matter. HFCS may or may not be any less healthy then natural table sugar, but it should be noted that HFCS is a common ingredient in countless processed foods. HFCS itself may not directly cause obesity, but the continuous consumption of highly processed foods over extended periods of time is. Obesity in turn promotes the development of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
The is no cut and dry answer to whether or not we should be eating HFCS. If you choose to consume foods containing HFCS, do so in moderation – whether it be natural table sugar or HFCS, too much can lead to adverse health effects. Health conscious individuals simply tend to use HFCS as a marker to identify processed foods that they are trying to avoid. Personally, if an ingredient label states that the food item contains HFCS, I’d rather leave it on the supermarket shelf then put it in my body.
If you’re concerned about the amount of high-fructose corn syrup in your diet, the Mayo Clinic suggests these tips:
- Limit processed foods
- Drink less soda
- Avoid foods that contain added sugar
- Choose fresh fruit rather than fruit juice or fruit-flavored drinks
- Choose fruit canned in its own juices rather than heavy syrup