In a previous post I wrote a bit about high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). I mentioned that it was brought to my attention in the book You On A Diet that the brain actually doesn’t get the signal that our stomach is full when we eat foods that contain it.
I’d like to go into more detail on the background of HFCS, and explain more about why it is so unhealthy for our bodies.
HFCS was developed in Japan in 1971. It is made from corn, and in the mid 1970’s we had an excess of corn crops in America. At the same time, sugar prices were high, which meant that food prices were higher for the consumer.
Since HFCS is made from corn and is grown right here in the States, it is very cheap to produce, while at the same time being six times sweeter than cane sugar. This meant that all of the excess corn could be used to make HFCS, and food that used to be made with sugar could be produced at a much cheaper cost. Sounds like a good solution because the farmers were winning by selling their surplus crops, and the American consumer could buy sweetened foods at a lower cost.
High fructose corn syrup makes food taste really good, however it serves a few more purposes beyond that. It is a great preservative so it can be used in (almost all–check your labels and this site for even more info on high fructose corn syrup aka HFCS) processed foods to extend their shelf life. It protects processed, frozen foods from freezer burn. It is also fabulous for making baked goods look tasty: it was found that by adding HFCS, it would make food appear more “natural looking”, as if it had just come out of Grandma’s oven! (I hope you’re catching my sarcasm here 😉 )
With all of these wonderful benefits that high fructose corn syrup gives us, why should we care about it, especially since it makes our food taste good? What does it matter that it was banned in Mexico and is rarely found in foods in New Zealand. Is it really that bad? Why should we care about HFCS?
There are several different names and forms of sugar, fructose, sucrose, and dextrose being three. Here we are focusing on fructose, which behaves differently than the latter two in regards to our metabolism.
Both sucrose and dextrose are broken down in our body before they ever make it to our liver, however fructose does not breakdown and reaches the liver “almost completely intact”. This feature of fructose (which in HFCS is of an even higher concentration) has been named “metabolic shunting” since the fructose is “shunted” or sidetracked towards the liver.
Fructose is used to build triglycerides in the liver, which it does by imitating insulin, causing the liver to release fatty acids into the bloodstream. The flood of fatty acids then causes muscle tissue to develop insulin resistance.
Do humans actually consume enough high fructose corn syrup to activate this process in their livers? HFCS is present in fast food, processed food, food found in convenience stores, sodas, cereal, energy bars, and more.
How much of this type of food do many people consume daily in their busy lives? A study was actually done on golden hamsters (their metabolism is very close to ours) in the year 2000 in which they were fed diets with high levels of HFCS. It took only weeks until they had high triglyceride levels as well as insulin resistance.
Studies have also been done on whether or not fructose causes the body to burn sugar as opposed to burning fat. It has been found that our metabolism veers towards fat storage when consuming high levels of fructose. Therefore, HFCS contributes to obesity not only by the fact that our brains don’t know that our stomachs are full, but also by causing the body to burn sugar rather than fat in our cells.
High fructose corn syrup is a man-made, processed sweetener. I was in a convenience store recently and was reading labels to find out whether or not they contained HFCS. I did not go through every processed food on the shelf (I read 10 labels), I only found one item that did not contain HFCS (and the other one contained sugar). I stopped at 10 because these were foods that I used to eat and I didn’t want to look at them anymore.
I obtained most of this information while reading the book “Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World” by Greg Critser. If you would like to learn more about this topic, I would recommend this book to you. It’s easy to read and it gives the fascinating history on how our current food industry evolved to what it is today.
In closing, my thought is this: why not allow farmers to make money on their corn crops by selling it to produce fuel for our automobiles, instead of putting it towards an ingredient that is unnatural and unhealthy for consumption? That would be a move in a positive direction for the human race, don’t you think?