How High Is Too High? The Facts on High Fructose Corn Syrup

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For years, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has been seeping into the American diet, but as more and more studies come out with findings linking HFCS to diabetes, obesity, and heart disease, it begs the question: what exactly are we eating?

What Is High Fructose Corn Syrup?

HFCS, a liquid sweetener alternative to sugar, was introduced into the American diet in the 1970s. Over the past 30 years, it has become one of the most successful food additives in modern history.

HFCS is used in food and beverage products and contains 10% more fructose than actual sugar, called sucrose. The U.S. is the world’s largest producer of HFCS.

How It Became the Focus in Our Diet?

HFCS became popular because it was a much easier substance to work with, compared with sucrose. Unlike sucrose, it remains stable in acidic conditions, making it easier to add into acidic beverages.

It’s also a liquid, which makes it easier to quickly pump into food than solid sucrose. Food producers also don’t have to worry about limited availability: it’s derived from corn, which is abundant in many parts of the world.

Health Risks

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that, by 2030, more than 360 million people worldwide will have diabetes—of those, more than 30 million will be Americans. And the WHO believes the number of deaths due to diabetes will increase by two thirds in the next 15 years.

Worldwide obesity has also doubled since 1980. In 2008, 500 million men and women worldwide were obese. Being overweight or obese is the fifth leading cause of death in the world.

Link to Diabetes

Researchers at the University of Southern California and at Oxford University in England wanted to find out if there was a link between HFCS and diabetes. They studied 43 countries and found that, although many countries had comparable obesity rates, diabetes was still 20% higher in countries with a higher prevalence and availability of HFCS.

Link to Obesity

Many studies have associated intake of HFCS with increased obesity risk. One study analyzed American eating habits over a period of 33 years, finding a more than 1,000% increase in HFCS consumption. During this time period, obesity rates also skyrocketed, and researchers argue it’s a significant correlation.

But one report, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, argued that, if there was indeed a strong link between HFCS and obesity, this would have to mean that HFCS is somehow different from sucrose. T

he report concluded that they are too similar, and that there’s nothing about HFCS in particular—as opposed to just sugar in general—that predisposes one to have obesity.

In fact, in 2011, HFCS consumption declined for the first time since 1997, while obesity rates are still climbing, which, the study says, is another indication that there’s no definitive link between the two.

What You Need to Know

The Center for Science in the Public Interest is urging the FDA to limit the amount of HFCS permissible in sodas, foods, and beverages, “as part of a comprehensive strategy to reduce Americans’ dangerously high sugar consumption.”

While scientific studies cannot prove that excessive consumption of HFCS is directly causing global health problems, the fact remains that Americans are consuming more sugar than ever, and Americans are suffering from diabetes and obesity more than ever. However, obesity and type 2 diabetes are actually largely preventable. This means that it is within your power to protect yourself from these diseases.