The Health Cost of High Fructose Corn Syrup
An article published in 2004 linked high fructose corn syrup to obesity. The authors of this article related the increase of high fructose corn syrup consumption to the increase of obesity rates in the United States. Since this article, high fructose corn syrup has become a heavily debated subject. People are divided on whether or not high fructose corn syrup is adding to an increase in obesity rates and whether or not it should be consumed. Multiple studies have been done and continue to show that high fructose corn syrup is not a product that should be in a person’s diet, and people are starting to listen. The effects of consuming this product are detrimental to a person’s health. High fructose corn syrup should be avoided because it contributes to an increase in weight, and an increase in chronic diseases.
False evidence may have been used to originally link high fructose corn syrup to obesity, but continued evidence shows that the conclusion is valid. In their article “Lack of evidence for high fructose corn syrup as the cause of the obesity epidemic,” Klurfeld et al. believe that high fructose corn syrup is not the cause of the rise in obesity. They argue that high fructose corn syrup was used for over 35 years before it was a topic of controversy. According to Klurfeld et al., the 2004 article lacked evidence linking high fructose corn syrup to obesity and implied that correlation equated to causation. He wrote, “This debate is by no means settled. More and longer randomized controlled trials are clearly needed to establish an appropriate knowledge base related to sugar sweetened beverage consumption and its alleged link to obesity” (772). Although they believe more research is needed to clarify the true reason for the obesity epidemic, there are many recent studies showing that fructose and excess consumption of any sugar has been directly linked to more fat in the liver, more fat in the abdomen and an increase in prevalence for chronic diseases.
High fructose of corn syrup is chemically similar to sucrose, but there are chemical differences. Sucrose is made up of two sugar molecules, glucose and fructose, and is bound together by a glycosidic bond, which is a bond that joins a sugar molecule to another sugar molecule. John White, author of “Straight talk about high fructose corn syrup: what it is and what it ain’t”, writes that sucrose is a naturally occurring substance found in sugar cane that needs to be imported from other countries at times to supply the demand. He discusses the price of sucrose and how it can often fluctuate in the market. White also discusses that sucrose is unstable in packaged food because it can expire and change the taste or texture of the food. In turn, this reduces the shelf life of the product and leaves unfulfilled profit for the company. The manufacturing industry was looking for a stable product to replace sucrose when high fructose corn syrup was invented.
High fructose corn syrup was created in the 1960s as a replacement for sucrose. It starts off by turning corn into corn starch. The corn starch is broken down by enzymes into corn syrup. Author of “What to Eat” Marion Nestle writes, “Corn syrup is sweet, but not as sweet as sucrose, and not nearly as sweet as fructose. To make it sweeter, chemists treat corn syrup with other enzymes to convert some of its glucose to fructose–about 42 percent. With further treatment, they can produce syrup that is 55 percent fructose” (320). High fructose corn syrup is also composed of the same two sugar molecules as sucrose, glucose and fructose, but these sugars are not bound together. It is because of this non-bond that high fructose corn syrup is able to be stable at room temperature in a liquid state. It also means that high fructose corn syrup does not spoil as quickly as sucrose. Companies that could not afford to use sweeteners are now able to because of the cheaper cost of high fructose corn syrup. This syrup is easy to produce because the United States has an abundance of corn fields in the Midwest, making it an economically viable product. This means that packaged food is more likely to contain high fructose corn syrup than sucrose and can contain empty calories.
Calories are units of energy from food used by the body. Calories are actually such a small unit that they are often bundled together by the 1000s and referred to as kcalories. Kcalories should be “nutrient dense” or packed full of nutrients according to authors Whiteny and Rofles. In their book, Understanding Nutrition, they discuss empty calories as, “empty kcalorie foods: a popular term used to denote foods that contribute energy but lack protein, vitamins and minerals” (38). Corn sweeteners lack protein, vitamins or minerals and are thus considered empty calories. An increase of empty calories from high fructose corn syrup can add to an increase in weight.
Weight is higher in people who consume processed food because of the added calories from high fructose corn syrup. In the paragraph titled “Obesity and Chronic Disease” from Understanding Nutrition, Whitney and Rofles explain that high fructose corn syrup and added sugar consumption increases calorie intake and weight gain. The authors state, “Over the past several decades, as obesity rates increased sharply, consumption of added sugars reached an all-time high- much of it because high fructose corn syrup use, especially in beverages, surged” (110). Children and adolescents are consuming more sugary drinks, and in taking more calories than necessary. The increased calorie consumption is directly related to increased weight with the excess calories being stored as fat.
Studies show that a diet with too much fructose from high fructose corn syrup gets stored as fat. Laura Beil, author of “Sweet Confusion: Does High Fructose Corn Syrup Deserve Such A Bad Rap?” writes about how the unbound fructose in high fructose corn syrup seeps into the liver. Fructose goes into the liver even if the energy is not needed and targets the mitochondria, or powerhouse, of a cell. Beil quotes Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist, when she writes, “When your mitochondria get overloaded, the excess energy is turned into liver fat. […] he characterized fructose as ‘alcohol without the buzz,’ because of its potential to cause liver damage.” This means, consuming more fructose than necessary from high fructose corn syrup can be damaging to the liver and be stored as fat in the body.
In addition, fructose from high fructose corn syrup slows down the body’s normal mechanisms to control appetite. “Further damaging are studies suggesting that once in the body, fructose is more likely to take up residence as fat about the belly and less likely to engage the appetite-control mechanisms that help put the brakes on eating” states Biel. If there is no full feeling, a person will continue the cycle of overeating processed food. Processed food is full of empty calories from corn sweeteners, including high fructose corn syrup. This topic is also discussed in the article “Being Happy With Sugar” by author James Hamblin. He quotes Doctor Barry Popkin, “Unlike glucose, fructose does not stimulate insulin secretion or enhance leptin production. […] Because insulin and leptin act as key afferent signals in the regulation of food intake and body weight (to control appetite), this suggests that dietary fructose may contribute to increased energy intake and weight gain.”
Likewise, too much fructose from high fructose corn syrup can affect people differently. In his article “Adverse Effects of Dietary Fructose,” Doctor Alan Gaby talks about the consumption of sucrose and fructose primarily from high fructose corn syrup. He relates an increased intake of fructose to having harmful effects on metabolism, He also states that excess fructose is more detrimental than sucrose, but it depends on how much is consumed and how a person’s body processes the excess sugar. Gaby states, “Even some of the healthiest people might experience negative effects from the massive amounts of fructose present in some modern Western diets. For those who have a genetic or acquired weakness in their capacity to metabolize this sugar, relatively modest increases in fructose intake might also cause problems” (295). He believes evidence shows sugars like fructose are more harmful than previously realized and is increasing the prevalence of chronic diseases.
Healthcare providers are telling patients to avoid food with high fructose corn syrup because it is linked to chronic diseases. Helen Hilts, board certified family medicine physician, tells all her patients to stay away from this overly used syrup. She tells them directly, “High fructose corn syrup is a destructive substance that you need to stay away from. Not only will it increase your blood sugar and cause insulin resistance but you will also consume harmful chemicals and poison your body.” Hilts explains to all her patients that high fructose corn syrup will increase weight and increase blood sugar. The increase in blood sugar will increase insulin resistance which means it will make it harder to get glucose into the cells and the sugar will stay in the blood stream. This will make the blood sugar higher, and when blood sugar is high constantly, it damages blood vessels. Damaged blood vessels can be detrimental to overall health and lead to chronic diseases like diabetes, a decrease in circulation in arms and legs, chronic diarrhea, bowel issues, obesity, and fatty liver.
Too much fructose from high fructose corn syrup can even be toxic. Being affected by a poisonous substance is the definition of toxic, and in the article, “Why You Should Never Eat High Fructose Corn Syrup,” Doctor Mark Hyman discusses high fructose corn syrup and why it should be given up. Hyman writes, “[…]even harmless substances can become toxic if you eat enough of them. Many people ask me, ‘Is high fructose corn syrup really that bad for you?’ And my answer to this question if ‘Yes,’ mainly for this very reason.” Hayman warns that the average sugar consumption per person, per year has increased to 150 pounds, and too much sugar is already known to be toxic to the body. The article also discusses the many hazardous chemicals used in the manufacturing of this ingredient. Many studies done have shown that high fructose corn syrup contains a small amount of mercury from the manufacturing process. This ingredient is dangerous when too much is consumed and can increase the mercury levels in the blood.
In conclusion, high fructose corn syrup in packaged food is detrimental to overall health. The unbound fructose molecule from high fructose corn syrup will seep into the liver and excess sugar in the liver is stored as fat. The fatty liver will also store fat in the abdomen around the midsection, or “spare tire”. The excess fructose can also affect blood vessels, blood sugar levels, and can increase the likelihood of getting a chronic disease like diabetes or obesity. Also, the manufacturing process of high fructose corn syrup can add harmful chemicals like mercury. All the evidence does point to high fructose corn syrup being an ingredient to avoid at all costs.
Beil, Laura. “Sweet Confusion: Does High Fructose Corn Syrup Deserve Such A Bad Rap?.” Science News 183.11 (2013): 22. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 01 Apr. 2015.
Gaby, Alan R. “Adverse Effects Of Dietary Fructose.” Alternative Medicine Review 10.4 (2005): 294-306. Academic Search Premier. Web. 01 Apr. 2015.
Hamblin, James. “Being Happy With Sugar.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 05 June 2014. Web. 23 Apr. 2015.
Hilts, Helen. Telephone interview. 22 Apr. 2015.
Hyman, MD Mark. “Why You Should Never Eat High Fructose Corn Syrup.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 12 Nov. 2013. Web. 01 Apr. 2015.
Klurfeld, D M, et al. “Lack Of Evidence For High Fructose Corn Syrup As The Cause Of The Obesity Epidemic.” International Journal Of Obesity 37.6 (2013): 771-773. Academic Search Premier. Web. 01 Apr. 2015.
Nestle, Marion. “Sugar(s).” What to EAT. New York: North Point, 2006. 320. Print.
White, John S. “Straight Talk about High-fructose Corn Syrup: What It Is and What It Ain’t.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 88.6 (2008): 1716S. Web. 23 Apr. 2015.
Whitney, Eleanor and Sharon Rolfes. Understanding Nutrition. 13th ed. Andover: Cengage Learning, 2011. 110. Print.