High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a processed food superstar. Found in everything from cookies and cakes to ketchup, salad dressing, canned soup, and even infant formula, it’s most prevalent in soft drinks and fruit juices. But should HFCS play a starring role in the state of America’s health, or does its negative side outweigh its ease of use and inexpensive price?
The birth of HFCS
Introduced to the food industry in the 1970s, HFCS is now the top sweetener and the number one source of calories in the U.S. Once scientists realized they could extract glucose from plants and chemically change it into fructose, the artificial fructose was mixed with corn syrup and HFCS was born. It’s cheaper, sweeter, easier to mix, and more easily transported than table sugar. HFCS is made up of a combination of 45% fructose (fruit sugar) and 55% glucose. Other foods contain fructose, such as agave, honey, and small amounts are found in fruit.
Ten years ago, HFCS replaced sugar in more than 40% of sweetened food products. Considering it’s in much of what our kids eat, there are concerns about potential health risks to children, including a possible relationship between HFCS, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and even liver disease later in life. For every study showing that our bodies cannot recognize and process HFCS the way we do other sweeteners, another study demonstrates how HFCS is metabolized by the body just like table sugar.
HFCS consumption isn’t all bad
According to a 2010 review study, moderate fructose consumption had no negative effect on lipid or blood glucose control and doses of <100 gm/day did not influence body weight. In general, the findings to date do not support a causal relationship between high fructose corn syrup and negative health outcomes. Researchers haven\’t been able to prove that consumption of HFCS specifically leads to any worse health outcomes than consuming any kind of extra dietary sugar. But all dietary sugar should be avoided.
Rather, experts say that our sugar-saturated diets in general are to blame. A daily diet high in processed foods and calories from any type of sugar puts a child at risk for obesity and other health complications.
HFCS in your child’s diet
Like any other food, sweets and other foods containing HFCS are fine in moderation. It’s important for both parents and kids to be sensible and consume age-appropriate portions from a variety of food groups.
Children under 2 years old don’t have room in their diet for added sugar, due to the intense growth period and need for important nutrients. Keep HFCS and other sugars to moderate amounts. Read food labels, looking for terms such as high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, glucose and other words ending in –ose, which indicate the presence of sugar. Also, try to limit processed foods in your diet. Given the choice between two products, go with the healthier option.
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
- Straight talk about high-fructose corn syrup: what it is and what it ain’t.
American Academy of Pediatrics
- Fat, Salt and Sugar: Not All Bad.
American Chemical Society
- Soda warning? High-Fructose Corn Syrup Linked to Diabetes, New Study Suggests.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
- Food Shopping Tips.
- Health implications of fructose consumption: A review of recent data
- Nutrition and Metabolism (7): 82.
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