According to a number of studies, the average American consumes up to 50 grams of high fructose corn syrup in a single day. When you add this to other sugars, you could be taking an astonishing 140 pounds every year. This is alarming considering the myriad health hazards of consuming large amounts of high fructose corn sugar. But first, let’s get a better understanding of high fructose corn sugar.
What is high fructose corn sugar?
Also known as HFCS, corn syrup, corn sugar or fructose syrup, high fructose corn syrup is a sweetener made from corn by putting it through a series of physical and chemical processes. The corn is first processed into corn starch, which is then broken down to form simple corn syrup which is 100 percent glucose – this is not the same as HFCS. But because simple corn syrup is not sweet enough, it is put through one more process. Genetically improved enzymes are added to the syrup to turn a large portion of the glucose into fructose; or more aptly, HFCS.
There are two main types of HFCS;
- HFCS-45 – comprised of 45% fructose and 55 percent glucose. This is less sweet than table sugar and is mainly used in processed foods.
- HFCS-55 – comprised of 55% fructose and 45% glucose. This has the same sweetness as table sugar and is most commonly used in soft drinks, ketchups, yoghurts, and candy.
Now that you know what HFCS is all about; let’s find out how it affects your body.
7 Hazards of high fructose corn syrup
A lot of marketing has been done to try and rub dirt from corn syrup’s name. This has led manufacturers to tell you that HFCS is the same as table sugar (sucrose), or worse yet, that HFCS is the same as the sugars in whole fruit. But the truth is that, although table sugar is bad for your health, HFCS is even worse. And the sugars found in whole fruit have been shown to be harmless when bound in the biological envelope of fiber, prebiotics, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Fruit is good for you. HFCS is not. To add insult to our newest members of society, the first ingredient in infant formula is HFCS. Not a good start in life.
Here are some of the adverse ways HFCS affects your health:
1. Leaky gut syndrome
This is mainly caused by the fructose in corn syrup. In the early days of its production, the high percentage of fructose in HFCS was actually its main selling point (hence the name). At the time, it was believed that since fructose is not absorbed into the bloodstream, it wasn’t dangerous. But this is not the case. When fructose in corn syrup is ingested, it passes through the gut and ends up in the liver; the only organ that can break it down. It is worth to note that the fructose in HFCS is not chemically bound, as is the case with glucose. As it passes through the gut, HFCS causes systemic shock which forces the gut to draw extra energy from ATP (the main energy source).
ATP’s main function is to maintain the integrity of our gut. But, with constant ATP depletion, the gut lining is compromised; which increases its permeability. This allows for passage (leakage) of proteins, toxins and other unwanted materials into the bloodstream. And with a leaky gut, a Pandora’s Box is open and a body-wide inflammation and other autoimmune diseases are bound to follow.
2. Fatty liver disease
This is perhaps the better known effect of consuming high fructose corn syrup. As mentioned earlier, the liver is the only organ that can break down fructose. After absorption in the gut, all the fructose ends up in your liver. Here, it is broken down to form fat in a process called lipogenesis. However, fructose prevents the liver from metabolizing the fat and so the fat accumulates in the liver leading to fatty liver, and ultimately to the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Fatty liver disease affects about 30 percent of adults in America.
The introduction of HFCS led to a dramatic increase in obesity levels in the US, and yet somehow manufacturers of corn syrup still claim that one has nothing to do with the other. Animal studies even show that HFCS causes more weight gain than table sugar.
Due to the absence of a chemical bond between glucose and fructose, absorption happens quickly (in table sugar, the bonds must first be broken before absorption into the bloodstream. By contrast, fructose passes through, causing damage to the gut, before ending up in the liver. The process happens so fast that leptin (the hormone that indicates when we are full) is not produced.
Fructose also inhibits insulin production so that you end up having glucose in your system but no insulin to make it available to your cells. This causes you to feel tired and hungry despite the high levels of sugar in your blood such that you consume more calories than needed leading to weight gain and development of pre-diabetes.
As said above, fructose hinders the production of insulin, despite the presence of glucose in the bloodstream. When this goes on for some time, you start to develop insulin resistance which is the cause of type 2 diabetes.
5. Heart diseases
Among the products of high fructose corn syrup synthesis by the liver are tryglycerides and LDL (bad cholesterol). These fatty materials get back into the bloodstream where they end up clogging blood vessels, putting you in danger of developing high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack or other cardiovascular diseases.
6. Increased mercury levels
Tests done on corn sugar samples have shown that it contains high levels of mercury, among other chemicals. This is thought to result from the processes used in its production. As we all know, the effects of mercury poisoning include kidney and liver failures, brain damage and even death.
Research carried out by some experts showed that cancer cells can metabolize fructose and use it to fuel their own growth. Therefore, while fructose might stress your system, to cancer cells, it is a ready fuel. This is another reason why you should avoid HFCS, especially if you have cancer.
Now that you know the health hazards of the high fructose in corn syrup, let’s look at some of the foods to avoid.
Foods that contain HFCS
Corn sugar is used extensively by food processers mainly because it is cheaper than cane or beet sugar. A good way to avoid foods with HFCS would be to stay away from processed foods and beverages.
But since avoiding all processed foods may be impractical; make a habit of reading the labels to find out the ingredients of food products. With the recent war on HFCS, manufacturers are getting creative and will avoid calling this poison HFCS. Watch out for corn sugar, corn syrup, fructose syrup, isoglucose, glucose-fructose or even just fructose.
Table sugar and corn sugar are bad for your health. However, the unbound nature of fructose in corn syrup makes it even worse. But this does not make fructose the villain; it’s the sugar found in fruits after all. In fruits, its quantity is minimal (depends on the fruit though) and it comes with nutrients and fiber, which enable it to be digested slowly (unlike in HFCS). In this case, fructose does not stress the system. So, in a nut-shell you should work to avoid artificial fructose so as to protect yourself from the hazards of high fructose corn syrup.