High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a type of artificial sweetener made from corn syrup. It is made when your body uses an enzyme to convert glucose found in corn syrup to fructose, a different simple sugar. Then a blend is made between this new substance and regular corn syrup that you’ll often find in processed foods like sodas, baked goods and cereals.
Where Did High Fructose Corn Syrup Start?
HFCS wasn’t the go-to sweetener until after the mid 70’s to 80’s. Before then, most U.S. food/beverages were sweetened with cane sugar. What changed?
Prices of Sugar
A shift in the U.S. trade of sugar supplies began in the 70’s. Laws began to encourage using our own sugar supplies more often, like those from Hawaii. For that reason, importing sugar from other countries became very expensive, and cane sugar for mass food production was used a lot less.
Prices of Corn
Another reason for the switch to HFCS was the price of corn. At the same time that importing cane sugar became very expensive, prices of corn in the U.S. dropped significantly. So sometime in the early 80’s, companies found it a lot more economical to sweeten products with HFCS.
HFCS and its Role in Your Body
Your body metabolizes HFCS differently than glucose. Unlike glucose, which travels to your cells with the help of insulin, digesting HFCS doesn’t trigger insulin release. That also means that the hormone Leptin doesn’t rise, which helps you feel full after eating. One theory is that consuming HFCS can actually compel you to eat more because you don’t feel satiated.
Diets with a lot of HFCS are also linked to more fat storage. Additionally, it is thought that HFCS may actually contribute to insulin resistance found most commonly in Type 2 Diabetes.
The Concern about Weight Gain
Considering the role of HFCS in your body and the foods/beverages it is most commonly found in, there is a plausible connection to weight gain and obesity. Because HFCS is so cheap to use, many food manufacturers and restaurants are able to increase portion sizes. These foods are also typically filled with lots of excess calories. And if you don’t feel the same “filling” effect when eating them as you do other foods, you might actually end up eating more.
However, concerns about weight gain aren’t backed 100% by science. There is no evidence that weight gain is more likely to occur from eating foods and drinks sweetened with HFCS compared to those using other sweeteners. Plus, some reviews show that while America’s consumption of HFCS has increased, the ratio of fructose to glucose has stayed roughly the same since 1960.
Putting it All Together
The bottom line? There is a lot of concern about HFCS and its relationship to weight, but there’s more to be studied. However, it can be said with confidence that any sweetened food or drink should be consumed in moderation and limited as much as possible. Extra calories contribute to weight gain, and the source of those calories matter. Instead, choose to consume most of your calories with nutritious foods that have a lot of fiber, vitamins, minerals, protein and more.
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