High-fructose corn syrup is a sweetener used in products like candy, baked goods and sweetened beverages. It’s come under heavy fire in recent years as a particularly health-destructive product linked to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and dozens of other ailments. While there is a link between the over consumption of high-fructose corn syrup and obesity, fructose is no worse than any other type of sugar and can be eaten as part of a healthy diet if portions are controlled.
Fructose and Other Sugars
A recent study published in Annals of Internal Medicine shows that general calorie intake plays a greater role in weight gain than the specific nature of consumed calories. The study followed 41 laboratory trials in which one group of test subjects was provided a carefully controlled diet of corn syrup while other groups received the same number of calories via other carbohydrates. There was no discernible difference in weight gain among the groups.
Further studies must be done to confirm the role of corn syrup in weight gain, but it appears the single greatest factor in obesity is the number of calories consumed, regardless of their nature. Of course, there is a difference between a low-calorie diet and a diet that is nutritious; any low-calorie diet can induce weight loss. It’s especially important to eat a wide variety of nutritious foods to ensure you receive enough vitamins and nutrients. Your body depends on them to function properly.
Corn Syrup Myths
A common belief is that fructose metabolizes differently from sucrose and other sugars. Some studies that showed a difference between fructose and other sugars were completed with mice, not humans, and the results are not proven consistent between species. Nutritionally, all sugars function in essentially the same way, unlike fats that are processed differently by our bodies depending on their sources.
The reason corn syrup has been linked to so many health problems, is its presence in nearly everything we eat. Almost every processed or packaged food contains high quantities because corn syrup is a cheaper alternative to other types of sweeteners. All sweeteners make nearly any food taste good. When foods are processed for a long shelf life, taste often suffers; adding a sweetener is an easy and cheap way to make processed food more appealing.
Another reason people commonly fear corn syrup is that it is less natural than other sugars. Corn syrup is refined chemically from cornstarch. Natural isn’t always better, however. Sugar from sugarcane or even fruit can affect our bodies in the same way as corn syrup.
Corn syrup is more prevalent in society due to government subsidies to corn farmers. The majority of corn grown in the U.S. is used in the production of corn syrup. The subsidies make corn farming lucrative and provide a readily available, inexpensive sweetener to food manufacturers.
Sugary-sweet foods aren’t the only items filled with corn syrup. Canned goods, dairy products, cereals, crackers and condiments have added fructose to preserve them and enhance flavor. Most dieticians agree that people should eat 100 to 150 grams of sugar each day. It’s easy to surpass that range without eating any obviously sugary foods.
The recommendation, then, is not merely to avoid soda and sweets, foods that make up a relatively small amount of the fructose consumed in the average diet. Nor is it to simply switch to treats with artificial sweeteners. It’s wiser to pay attention to the ingredients of your favorite foods and avoid processed foods. A diet of primarily nutritious, whole foods is healthier than one that relies heavily on convenience foods.
No food is inherently bad or evil. By taking the time to understand the effects of what you put into your body, you can make responsible decisions about your dietary choices. Rather than avoiding a food based on its bad reputation, you can make an informed choice and take control of your health.