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Is High Fructose Corn Syrup Lurking in Your Favorite Foods? 

Americans consume a staggering amount of the now ubiquitous sweetener high fructose corn syrup. In fact, studies indicate that the average consumer dines on 12 teaspoons per day with so-called “high consumers” capping out at 22 daily teaspoons. This means that an American consumes between 38 and 69 pounds of HFCS every year. It is no wonder that research into the potential drawbacks of this sugar alternative are at the forefront of consumer-driven science.

What is HFCS?

In order to understand the health implications, it is necessary to first grasp exactly what this sweetening agent is. The recipe calls for corn to be milled into corn starch then transformed into glucose syrup. Specific enzymes, notably glucoamylase and glucose isomerase, can then be used to break down the long chains of sugar that comprise traditional corn syrup and convert a good percentage of those glucose molecules into fructose.

Production Trends

It is interesting to note that one of the likely reasons that high fructose corn syrup has gained such popularity amongst producers and food manufacturers is that the basic ingredient, corn, is economically preferred in the United States. While traditional sugar was subjected to steep tariffs and quotas in the late 1970’s, corn enjoyed government subsidies to keep corn prices artificially low. These two economic realities set the stage for HFCS to creep into most convenience foods and even some “healthy” food products.

Disadvantages of HFCS

Unfortunately, the human body does not process fructose in the same way that it processes traditional sugar. When an individual consumes glucose or sucrose, the body secretes insulin in order to carry those sugars into the cells and convert them into energy. Fructose, on the other hand, does not stimulate the release of insulin. Since insulin is also responsible for stimulating leptin, which advises the consumer that he is no longer hungry, individuals who consume fructose are more likely to eat excess calories without realizing it. Scientists believe that this may be key in the obesity epidemic. Recently, researchers also identified a second danger lurking in HFCS: a shocking level of mercury contamination. In fact, fully 50% of tested samples of high fructose corn syrup displayed elevated levels of the well-known poison.

Unexpected Sources

In light of this information, it seems reasonable to eliminate or limit sources of HFCS in the diet. However, the substance can be difficult to spot since it is included in many foods that are considered healthy. For instance, many leading brands of yogurt and salad dressing contain high fructose corn syrup. Popular nutrition bars and even some whole grain bread products are also produced with HFCS. Consumers must turn a keen eye to all labeling on the processed foods they purchase in order to avoid HFCS lurking in foods that are marketed as nutritionally sound.

Healthier Alternatives

Another option is to utilize healthier sweetening alterntives. Some natural options are honey and stevia. Aside from lending sweetness, raw honey contains vitamins, antioxidants, and other components that are considered beneficial. Many experts believe stevia is the best alternative since it is a natural herb that does not contribute to sugar-related issues, such as stimulating the glycemic index. The drive to consume sweet foods is a natural part of the way that humans evolved. Finding ways to avoid unhealthy sweeteners and increase the consumption of healthier alternatives is the best way to work with this natural food preference while maintaining optimal health.



This article was written by Karl Stockton for the team at