Is High Fructose Corn Syrup Unhealthier than Table Sugar?
You have heard the rumour: High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is unhealthier than regular table sugar and a major contributor to America’s obesity epidemic. Is it really? Shockingly, the USDA reports that we consume on average 600 calories per day from sugar, mostly in the form of HFCS. This statistic is not hard to believe. A 12-ounce soda contains the equivalent of nine teaspoons of sugar, and we are drinking on average 2½ servings per day for every man, woman, and child. No matter what the form, we are eating far too much sugar on a daily basis.
What is HFCS, and is it really different from table sugar? HFCS is a group of corn syrups (see below) which have undergone processing to increase their fructose content and are then mixed with pure glucose corn syrup to reach their final form. Glucose is a simple sugar used by our body’s cells as a source of energy and as a metabolic regulator. Fructose is also a simple sugar. It has a lower glycemic index relative to other sugars because fructose is metabolized in the liver through phosphorylation, a complex process of reactions that controls enzyme activity.
The typical types of HFCS are
- HFCS 90 (most commonly used in baked goods) which is approximately 90% fructose and 10% glucose
- HFCS 55 (most commonly used in soft drinks) which is approximately 55% fructose and 45% glucose, and
- HFCS 42 (most commonly used in sports drinks) which is approximately 42% fructose and 58% glucose.
- HCFS tastes 40% sweeter than sucrose (table sugar), which tastes 25% sweeter than glucose.
There is much controversy regarding the negative health effects of high fructose corn syrup due to phosphorylation. A 2005 study in the Diabetes Journal, suggests that large quantities of fructose stimulates enzymatic activity in the liver to produce triglycerides, promote glycation of proteins and induce insulin resistance. The enzymatic activity, glycation, is the first step of phosphorylation. Some glycation reactions are benign, but others are more reactive than the sugars they are derived from, and they can affect insulin and leptin hormone levels, both which are involved with appetite control. Adverse changes in hormone levels are also implicated in many age-related chronic diseases such as obesity, type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and nerve damage.
In addition, our brain needs glucose to think and depends on it from the blood, which controls the efficiency of insulin. Insulin allows glucose and all other sugars to enter into our cells, which in turn controls blood sugar levels. HFCS, as with all sugar consumption, shoots our blood sugar levels up and triggers a spike in insulin. If there are no other nutrients to sustain our blood sugar level, it crashes, and we crave more sugar. Furthermore, our brain is hard wired so that when we eat, enzymes are released that prime our brain to anticipate an energy boost. With a balanced diet and a healthy metabolism, a calorie-control mechanism kicks in after a few minutes to regulate the desire for more food, including the satiety hormone leptin. But with too much sugar, especially fructose, we eat and eat and can’t get satisfied.
What we eat and drink will impact the functions of our digestive system as well as our pH levels, which in turn impacts every metabolic function and how we utilize our enzymes, minerals, and vitamins. Excess sugar consumption upsets the ph balance in the digestive system, which interferes with the absorption of nutrients in the small intestine and colon into the blood stream. If the intestinal tract is not balanced you will not have the proper absorption and your body will not be able to effectively utilize the nutrients.
Good health is determined by what you eat! Just as the gluten protein causes inflammation in the body by creating immunological reactions, HFCS causes inflammation in the body at the hormonal level by creating abnormal metabolic reactions. The bottom line is that the over consumption of sugar in any form can cause metabolic sensitivity and adverse health effects due to inflammation. We should eat less sugar, in any form, and replace it with more whole, unprocessed foods.