The Corn Syrup Conundrum

What the "skinny" on high fructose corn syrup? Is it really that bad? Hear what Stefanie has to say!

The Corn Refiners Association, the “men behind the mask” of what America has come to demonize—high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)—and The Sugar Association are in a big time battle of the bulge. Over the years, HFCS has lost market share to seemingly healthier counterparts like real sugar and euphemisms for real sugar like evaporated cane juice. As a result, Big Corn decided to bid the FDA to rename HFCS to “corn sugar” and low and behold, it was denied. Apparently the FDA defines sugar as a solid, dried and crystallized food—not a syrup. 

While the battle between Big Corn and Big Sugar continues, it may all be for naught as a growing body of research suggests that HFCS, and its too close for comfort relative, sugar (and its many euphemisms including everything from sugar in the raw to brown sugar, molasses, maple syrup and honey), may contribute to diseases that kill hundreds of thousands of Americans every year due to an all too prominent sweet tooth. So if you dial down your total consumption of added sugars, you could surely reduce the risk of chronic disease. According to The Toxic Truth About Sugar, published in 2012 in the prestigious journal, Nature, researchers concluded that HFCS and sugar (sucrose) are as addictive as cigarettes and alcohol, and that overconsumption of both is the driving force behind the worldwide epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes (the type associated with obesity). An estimated $150 billion a year is the price tag for sugar-related diseases in America alone.

What Is It
I have to get a little “science geek” on you for a moment. Carbohydrates (essentially anything plant-based from corn syrup to kale) break down into single sugar molecules that are then absorbed directly into your bloodstream to help make your motor run. The singles most commonly include glucose, dextrose (a type of glucose), fructose and galactose. So basically anything from a plant breaks down into single SUGAR molecules. If everything carbohydrate ends up as sugar, than why is there such a debacle about HFCS versus sugar?

High Fructose Corn Syrup starts out as cornstarch (starch from the corn kernel).  Enzymes or acids are used to break down most of the starch into glucose. Then other enzymes convert different proportions of the glucose to fructose (those single sugar molecules). HFCS, on average, is about half fructose and half glucose—roughly the same as ordinary table sugar when metabolized by the body.

Basically everything sweet has some ratio of glucose and fructose. Industry spends a lot of money and time defending their sweets (like Big Corn and Big Sugar) and scientists debate over these mini-molecules—for instance, fructose is the belly fat culprit. But, in the end this topic is being micromanaged to madness and all you need to focus on is reducing your overall sugar intake cause in the end, whether you have table sugar, sugar in the raw or honey, it is still SUGAR!!!

Why Is It Bad
I am not going to vilify HFCS alone as it is clear that this highly processed sugar has some partners in crime. Though, I must admit that I am not a fan of the “corn sugar” for two simple yet serious facts: (1) It is highly processed compared to its “real” sugar counterparts; (2) Up to 85 percent of U.S. corn is genetically modified. There is a very real fructose glucose debate but in the end fructose is present in both HFCS and table sugar so it’s better not to micromanage our munchies rather macromanage our overall sugar intake.

Healthier Options
Very simply, just consume LESS SUGAR. The way to do this is to limit processed food intake as these packaged prizes are loaded with sugar (whether HFCS, sugar, evaporated cane juice and more). Everything from soups and sauces to alternative milks (like soy milk) and yogurt contain sinful amounts of sugar. Now that you know the many faces of sugar, avoid products with unnecessary additions (there are plenty of soups and sauces on the market without the added sweet). And if you opt for yogurt, go for plain and add your own sugar. Reclaim control over what goes in your body.


Let’s keep this conversation going. Please feel free to share your thoughts and opinions. I would love to hear from you! 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Rick Hoyt December 18, 2012 at 11:35 AM
Hello Stefanie, Thank You For Great Articles ! Nutrition For Our Family is a High Priority, My Beef with HFCS is, That It's Made with GMO Corn, Sad How this Nation's Food Supply has been hijacked by "Monsatan", With Implied Consent From The FDA, USDA, Have to Be Skeptical And Vigilant. Kind Regards - Rick
Stefanie Sacks, MS, CNS, CDN December 18, 2012 at 12:18 PM
And thanks for reading Rick. Appreciate the support. Sadly, we have to be vigilant if we want to eat safely and be healthy. Our food landscape is one big mess but with the right guidance, everyone can munch with wellness in mind. Like I say to those I work with, don't get swayed by claims on food, nutrition facts labels and all the madness in food marketing. Stick to the basics—the ingredient lists. They tell the story of your food. Albeit partially, but it is a great start. Better than many of us are doing now. All the best, Stefanie
Kieran Brew December 18, 2012 at 05:04 PM
For awhile now I've been calling sugar "the real gateway drug". Anyone who's seen just about any child denied their fix would understand.


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