Q: "I've seen those TV commercials about high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Why the commercials? Who is paying for them? Are there really health problems related to consuming foods that contain HFCS? Should I be reading labels? Should I be eating less of it?"
--Joady P., Hendersonville, NC
A: Thanks for your questions, Joady. Quite a few clients and friends have asked me about those commercials. If you haven't seen them, you can find them on YouTube (see source one at the end of the article for a full Web address). You may know that fruits are the primary, nature-made source of fructose. HFCS, though, is definitely not a "naturally occurring substance." Instead, it's a highly refined blend of sugars (typically 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose) made in the laboratory from corn, which is often genetically modified. The process consists of three steps using enzymes, at least one of which comes from genetically modified organisms. For more information on how HFCS is manufactured, check out source two at the end of this article.
The beverage industry alone uses nearly 60 percent of the HFCS produced. The vast majority of non-diet sodas are sweetened with HFCS. The other 40 percent is used by commercial bakeries, fruit and vegetable canners and candy makers; in ice cream, yogurt and other dairy products; and by fast food companies in salad dressings, sauces, buns, shakes, pies, rolls, breads, desserts, muffins and cookies (3).
First manufactured in 1966, HFCS consumption jumped from 2o pounds per capita per year in 1978 to more than 60 pounds in 1998. Why? Because HFCS is cheaper to use than sugar and easier to transport. From 1966-2004, refined sugar, i.e. sucrose or table sugar, declined from 70 pounds per person to 40 pounds. However, overall sweetener use rose steadily over the period (4).
A steadily rising consumption of these "cheap sweets" correlates closely with a rise in obesity and diabetes. At the ScienceDaily website, you'll find four relatively recent articles about research studies exploring potential health issues related to consumption of HFCS (5). The headlines in chronological order are:
* July 28, 2008: Limiting fructose may Boost weight loss
* October 19, 2008: Fructose sets table for weight gain without warning
* December 11, 2008: Fructose metabolism more complicated than thought
* February 9, 2009: Women who drink lots of soda [two or more cans daily] at higher risk for kidney disease