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Does High Fructose Corn Syrup Cause Obesity and Diabetes?

Could high fructose corn syrup be a cause for the rise in obesity, diabetes and other medical problems? Should you be concerned about it in your daily diet? There is more to gaining weight than just calories.

Could high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) be a cause for the rise in obesity, diabetes and other medical problems? Should you be concerned about it in your daily diet?

Pick up almost any product in your kitchen and you will see high fructose corn syrup listed in the ingredients. You might wonder how can it be bad for your health when it is just corn and fructose. There is more to gaining weight than just calories.

What HFCS Is

High corn fructose syrup flooded the food market in the late1970s; about the time the dramatic rise in obesity and type II diabetes started. The food industry loves it because it is cheaper and easier to use than regular sugar. HFCS is the real reason soda pop companies and fast food restaurants were able to super size their soft drinks.

It is made from cornstarch that has added fructose through an added enzymatic process. Corn syrup is normally high in glucose, once the fructose is added it is then HFCS. Sugar is sucrose, which contains 50% glucose and 50% fructose. There are three main types of HFCS:

HFCS-42 is 42% fructose and is mainly used in baked goods.

HFCS-55 is 55% fructose and is used in soda pop and other sweetened drinks.

HFCS-90 is 90% fructose and is used in special applications and also mixed with the HFCS-42 to get the HFCS-55.

Why HFCS Causes Obesity

Obesity is not only about calories; there are other factors that add to the obesity problem. Glucose, whether it is from sugars or carbohydrates causes the body to produce insulin. Insulin increases the production of leptin in the body, which is a hormone that decreases the levels of another hormone called ghrelin. Leptin tells our brains we are full and ghrelin is the hormone that tells our brains we are hungry.

Fructose is absorbed differently than glucose and carbohydrates since it doesn’t use insulin. No insulin means no production of leptin and no suppression of ghrelin. This can cause us to feel constantly hungry or to be hungrier sooner and consistently overeat. Fructose disrupts the leptin and causes the leptin to stop working and the ghrelin doesn’t give the proper signals to the brain [1] [2].

The liver puts out more fat after metabolizing fructose from HFCS, which causes more fat being stored in the body, which in turn adds to obesity. The type of fat that fructose causes is the worst kind of fat, being stored internally around organs [3].

Everyone’s complaint is why does it have to be in everything we eat. We know it’s in Coke or Pepsi, but it is also in whole wheat bread, low fat foods, so-called health foods, dressings, sauces, fruit juice drinks, cereals, sports drinks, soups, ketchup and in some yogurts to name just a few foods. I was surprised to find that Yoplait yogurt has sugar and HFCS. Making a pot of chili, I found it in cans of red kidney beans.

The average American now consumes 63 pounds of HFCS per year. That isn’t even counting the amount of regular sugar that is consumed. What used to be honey for your biscuits at KFC is now honey sauce with high fructose corn syrup, color, honey flavor and 11% honey. The food industry isn’t selling us food anymore; they are selling us cheap and unhealthy imitations of food. Food that tricks our bodies into not even knowing we aren’t hungry anymore.

A preliminary study published in the March 2007 issue of Hematology had this to say about obesity and HFCS, “According to this study, and precisely because of its unique effects, HFCS might be able to increase risk of obesity in a way that is unrelated to the calories it contains" [4].

HFCS Could Cause Diabetes

A 2007 study conducted at Rutgers University tested 11 different carbonated beverages containing HFCS and found “astonishingly high” amounts of reactive carbonyls [5]. Reactive carbonyls are believed to cause cell and tissue damage that could lead to diabetes. Reactive carbonyls are not found in regular table sugar.

HFCS Causes Other Health Damage

HFCS also chelates minerals in our blood, causing deficiencies in certain nutrients like chromium, zinc and copper. Every cell in the body uses glucose, but fructose can only be metabolized in the liver. Studies have shown that a diet high in HFCS and sugar can cause liver disease, just like that found in alcoholics [6].

A diet high in HFCS is now believed to cause insulin resistance, gout, high cholesterol and fat to accumulate in the body. It causes gout because HFCS raises the uric acid levels of the body. Over consumption of fructose also leads to high triglycerides, which can be a sign of heart disease and diabetes.

A diet high in high fructose corn syrup raises blood pressure. All of these factors lead to what is called the metabolic syndrome [7].

Fructose Without Fiber

Proponents argue that high fructose corn syrup can’t be bad for our health because there is plenty of fructose in fruit. That is correct. There is one big difference; there is a lot of fiber in fruit. Fructose with fiber is not a problem; fructose without fiber is a health problem. Fructose in nature has a lot of fiber. The fructose made from corn is not the same fructose sugar found in fruit. The fructose in fruit does not interfere with the leptin hormone.

Losing Weight

I read numerous web sites with people complaining that they eat right and exercise and they still cannot lose weight or inches. Most wrote that once they stopped eating and drinking anything that had high fructose corn syrup in it, the weight and inches started dropping off. You have to read the ingredients of everything you cook and eat.

GMO HFCS

Since corn is one of the most genetically modified foods, the corn used to make HFCS is also genetically modified and new studies have found GMO foods can cause numerous health problems.

Conclusion

If you want to learn much more about HFCS and sugar's health affects on the body, watch the above lecture called “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” given by Dr. Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology.

© 2010 Sam Montana

Resources

Sugar:The Bitter Truth - Dr. Robert H. Lustig, MD

[1] Obesity Research Jurgens, Hella; et al. (2005)

[2] The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism Vol. 89, No. 6 2963-2972

[3] Obesity Research (2005) 13, 1146–1156; doi: 10.1038/oby.2005.136

[4] WebMD

[5] Rutgers University Study

[6] J Hepatol. 2008 Jun;48(6):993-9. Epub 2008 Mar 10 - Fructose consumption as a risk factor for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

[7] American Heart Association

[8] WebMD

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Comments (10)

I first learned about the horror of High Fructose Corn Syrup a few years ago and like you I am amazed at everything it's in. I hate fake sugars like HFCS, sucralose, aspartame and all those. These should be replaced with real sugar in everything again. Recently I noticed that Pepsi has a "throwback" edition they released that has real sugar in it, instead of the crappy HFCS. Not only is HFCS bad for your health, but it doesn't taste as good as real sugar. I agree, you have to watch very carefully what you eat if you don't want to be consuming mass amounts of HFCS each year. This makes perfect sense though as to why people can't lose weight, are gaining weight like crazy and why more and more people are becoming diabetic or obese. We all need to band together to protest the inclusion of HFCS in so many of our everyday food products we eat. If companies realized that HFCS is actually hurting their bottom line, they might change their mind and switch back to real sugar.

Ranked #1 in Obesity

I don’t understand why it has to be in everything like a can of kidney beans. And in certain so-called health foods like some yogurts and low-fat foods, that is very deceiving. And it does taste terrible. I didn’t realize for a very long time that’s why I started hating the taste of coke or even Gatorade. The throwback Pepsi and some other pops, the companies say its only an advertising thing or retro. But they know the taste difference. Aspartame is every bit as bad for our health as MSG is. I never could drink anything with it in it because I would get terrible headaches. Everyone just needs to read the ingredients in everything we use.

Scary information but very important to know. I normally buy as many dry goods as I can and cook most of my own foods so I know all that goes into it. For example, I buy dry beans and fresh vegetables whenever possible. I am growing my own garden as well. Excellent article.

Ranked #1 in Obesity

Bethany, that is about the only way to be sure you can get actual food. When you plant your own garden you also have to pay attention to the seeds you buy anymore. Some of them are altered in ways you might not like. With HFCS in so many items, you would think the corn industry had a trillion tons of corn they needed to sell.

Sam, thanks for writing this article. I read several years ago that HFCS was banned in some European countries. I can truly attest to the contibution to obesity from this product. I had no weight issues until a few short years after this began being added to foods. Weight added because of this additive is extremely hard to get rid of. I've been buying only foods that do not have this for several years now. Generally, the cheaper the brand, the more likely it is to have HFCS but not always.

Ranked #1 in Obesity

Hi Lorena, it is certainly more prevalent in the US than in Europe. I didn’t realize it was banned in Europe. If it is banned in Europe it is because of the GMO ban. I didn’t even think about the GMO part of corn in HFCS until the end of the article. So it is bad all the way around. And it is in everything, and you are right, the cheaper the product the more likely it is in it. I still don’t understand why it has to be in a can of red kidney beans. Kroger brand. Once I saw that I now get all of my chili makings at Sunflower Market, at least their store brands don’t have the HFCS in it. You have to read every single label to know what the heck we are eating anymore.

PatRD

It’s very disturbing to see foods demonized. When it comes to high fructose corn syrup, it IS identical to sugar (and honey) both in caloric value AND the way it is metabolized. The body recognizes both the same. As a registered dietitian and consultant to the food industry (like the Corn Refiners Assoc.) and a college professor I ask people to make sensible decision based on credible information.

There are no clinical studies on humans that use reasonable amount of fructose. In 2008, the American Medical Association concluded “high fructose corn syrup does not appear to contribute to obesity more than other caloric sweeteners.” And, according to the American Dietetic Association, “high fructose corn syrup…is nutritionally equivalent to sucrose. Once absorbed into the blood stream, the two sweeteners are indistinguishable.”

At the end of the day a calorie is a calorie is a calorie; and what we put in we must put out in some physical activity. The key is to replace our sedentary lifestyles and balance food intake with energy output. An interesting opinion is at http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4157

Ranked #1 in Obesity

Hi Pat and thank you for your comments. The comment from the American Dietetic Association is somewhat misleading in that sugar or hfcs have the same nutritional value, do they have any nutritional value at all except for hard-core athletes who might need the simple sugars. High fructose corn syrup used in soft drinks and many other products is not the same as sucrose (sugar) since that hfcs has 55% fructose where sugar has 50% fructose. That 5% does add up. I am not certain it is metabolized the same way either. I know that many disagree with Dr. Lustig talked about studies that used higher than normal amounts of fructose. Princeton just published a study stating that hfcs could cause obesity more so than sugar does. I used to believe a calorie is calorie, but after reading the studies how hfcs affects the liver and fat, I am not so certain anymore. I know sugar tastes far better than hfcs and I still would like to know why so many foods that have no need for sweetening have hfcs added to them.

Excellent article

yousuf sadat

Very true and useful information. This is the way to create awareness among people and let them know the dangers of HFCS. It also helped me in my research paper.

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