Put down the cookies and slowly back away from the soda. Banish the high fructose corn syrup from your pantry and refrigerator. You’ll thank me later.
We’ve covered the perils of artificial sweeteners on Mamavation, but what about high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)? Though high-fructose corn syrup may be considered “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), we respectfully and completely disagree. High fructose corn syrup goes on our list for “Generally Recognized as Nasty Crap” (GRANC).
First, let’s quickly go over the technical stuff. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a sweetener derived from corn. It differs from regular corn syrup, derived 100% from glucose, while most HFCS contains just 45% glucose. The remaining 55% is from fructose, a natural simple sugar found in honey, fruits, and vegetables.
The terms “fructose” and “high fructose corn syrup” are often used interchangeably, which can get a little confusing. Yet fructose is also a component of table sugar, and can be used as an ingredient on its own. Table sugar (also known as sucrose) contains 50% fructose and 50% glucose.
HFCS is in almost every aisle of the supermarket. It has a sweetness level comparable to table sugar but is cheaper and more efficient for manufacturers to use in foods. It’s easily found in many foods and beverages, such as fruit juice, soda, cookies, pastries, cereal, bread, yogurt, ketchup, and mayonnaise.
You may be wondering why HFCS is on our GRANC list if fructose is also found in fruits and vegetables. It has to do with the composition of fruits and vegetable that contain vitamins, nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber, which makes us feel full. The fiber in fruits such as apples helps to dramatically slow down the absorption of fructose minimizing any blood sugar spikes. So even if you are watching your sugar intake you can still eat those fruits and vegetables. Just leave the skin on when possible, as that is often where the fiber is contained.
Here’s why you should avoid added high fructose corn syrup in your diet at all costs:
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1. It can make you fat.
Since the introduction of HFCS as a cost-effective sweetener, the rate of obesity in the U.S. has skyrocketed. Coincidence? We think not. Studies in rats have shown that consuming HFCS leads to significantly more weight gain than consuming table sugar even when calorie intake is the same.
By the way, the Corn Refiners Association was not pleased with these findings (as you can imagine). They even issued a rebuttal to one study out of Princeton University. However, further studies from Johns Hopkins have built on this knowledge determining that fructose metabolism by the brain increases food intake and obesity risk.
2. It can change your genes.
Fructose can actually make changes to genes in your brain. Not just a couple genes, either. We’re talking hundreds of them. These changes may lead to a wide range of diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and ADHD.
Remember that at one time the average American took in fructose only from fruits and vegetables, as well as a little bit of honey perhaps. Now the average consumer takes in 55 grams of fructose per day, and adolescents a whopping 73 grams. No wonder our brains are not functioning correctly!
3. It may make you diabetic.
If you’re thinking that this part doesn’t apply to you since you don’t have a family history of diabetes, think again. It turns out that soft drinks sweetened with high fructose corn syrup may contribute to the development of diabetes, particularly in children. Reactive carbonyls are nasty, highly-reactive compounds associated with “unbound” fructose molecules, and they are typically elevated in the blood of people with diabetes. Researchers conducted chemical tests on different carbonated soft drinks containing high fructose corn syrup and found levels of reactive carbonyls in the beverages so incredibly high that a single can of soda may contain up to five times the concentration of reactive carbonyls than the concentration found in the blood of an adult person with diabetes. Is it any surprise that the prevalence of diabetes is 20% higher in countries with higher availability of high fructose corn syrup?
4. It can make you stupid.
You may want to skip the soda before your next exam or presentation. Multiple animal studies have found that a typical American diet steadily high in fructose can slow down the brain and impede its memory and learning abilities. This is your brain on soda, folks.
5. It can damage your heart.
Beverages sweetened high fructose corn syrup significantly increases the risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Even in low doses there is increased risk, and the risk factors increase as the level of consumption increases.
6. It may increase your risk of breast cancer and metastasis.
All dietary sugar consumption can have an impact on breast cancer development. Yet a recent study out of MD Anderson Medical Center found that fructose in table sugar and high fructose corn syrup was responsible for facilitating lung metastasis in breast tumors.
7. It can increase your risk of pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic tumors use fructose to activate a key cellular pathway that drives cell division helping the cancer to grow and spread.
8. Last Reason to Avoid High Fructose Corn Syrup? It can make you age faster.
And nobody wants that. You can get as many facials or fillers as your heart desires, but if you’re drinking a cola while doing it you are essentially defeating the purpose. Researchers in Israel have shown in animal studies that excessive consumption of fructose accelerates body processes related to ageing, such as reducing the skin’s elasticity and softness.
Now that you know you should avoid high fructose corn syrup you may be tempted to use artificial sweeteners such as Splenda® and Nutrasweet®. Don’t do it. Artificial sweeteners are not any better than high fructose corn syrup. Look for alternatives that are unsweetened instead. Drink water (plain or organic fruit infused) rather than soft drinks. Bake cookies yourself instead of using the store-bought variety. You got this! You’re worth it.