High-Fructose Corn Syrup: Is It Sabotaging Your Diet?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006 - 2:57pm

By Adam Kessler, CSCS

As a society, we are seriously battling obesity right now, and it doesn’t look like we’re going to win anytime soon. However, new scientific discoveries suggest there could be hope. That’s because recently high-fructose corn syrup has been identified as a potentially significant contributor to obesity. If the theories are accurate, there may be some smart dietary changes you can make that will drastically improve your odds in the battle of the bulge.

What is high-fructose corn syrup?

Basically, high-fructose corn syrup is a sweetener in many foods that has risen in consumption during the past 25 years—from zero consumption in 1966 to 62.6 pounds per person in 2001. High-fructose corn syrup is made from corn starch and contains fructose and glucose, two sugar building blocks. It tastes sweeter than refined sugar, which makes it popular with food manufacturers because they can use less. Moreover, improved manufacturing methods in the 1980s prompted a boost in production and a drop in price below that of refined sugar. Back then, it wasn’t suggested that high-fructose corn syrup metabolized any differently than other sugars. Recent research, though, suggests otherwise.

The body uses glucose differently than fructose

Researchers say that the body absorbs fructose and glucose differently. When glucose is consumed, it kicks off a series of chemical reactions within the body which include delivering energy to the cells (by increasing the production of insulin), regulating appetite and fat storage (by increasing the production of a hormone called leptin), and regulating food intake (by suppressing the production of a hormone called ghrelin). Theoretically, hunger declines when ghrelin levels decline—which is what happens when you eat carbohydrates containing glucose.

Why fructose is especially harmful

On the other hand, the body uses fructose a lot differently. Fructose appears to act more like fat in terms of weight regulation. Preliminary tests suggest that consuming too much fructose is like consuming too much fat, and could cause weight gain. Why? Because fructose does not increase insulin secretion or leptin production, nor does it suppress ghrelin. Because it doesn’t do any of these things, theoretically it will not regulate your food intake and decrease your hunger.

Unfortunately, not enough studies have been done to prove this theory. Other detrimental effects of fructose were shown during research at the University of Minnesota, which found that fructose had negative effects on the human liver by increasing production levels of triglycerides. (High levels of triglycerides are linked to heart disease.) The university’s research saw this rise in triglycerides higher in men than women. Thus, they concluded that a diet high in fructose is detrimental, especially in men.

There are still skeptics who claim that high-fructose corn syrup acts no differently than any other sugar. Until scientists can draw some definitive conclusions, they recommend limiting consumption to the 10% daily recommendation of table sugars (suggested by the World Health Organization).

Where do you find high-fructose corn syrup

This sweetener is everywhere. Soft drinks and lemonade are the leading products containing high-fructose corn syrup. However, it can also be found in cookies, gum, jams, jellies, baked goods, and breads. It is in leading brands such as Gatorade®, Smuckers Jelly®, Wonder Bread®, and a lot of pasta sauces. Many people claim you can taste the difference in foods containing high-fructose corn syrup. For example, breads with fructose taste heavier than breads without fructose, which are lighter and fluffier.

Until more is known, I suggest you limit your of high-fructose corn syrup foods. In general, it’s always a good idea to watch your portions and increase your intake of fruits and vegetables. The next time you are watching a TV show discussing obesity, pay close attention and see if the people make this statement: "When I get depressed, I eat bags and bags of carrots and I just can’t stop. That’s why I’m fat.” I didn’t think so.

Some information referenced from The Washington Post, March 11, 2003.