It's safe to say that we Americans have a serious love affair with sweets. At the top of that list is soda, and its main ingredient high-fructose corn syrup. Diabetes is skyrocketing, and many fingers are being pointed at the syrup as the main culprit. However, is it really that much more damaging to us than "natural" cane sugar? Let's take a look at Food Myth Friday!
What is High-Fructose Corn Syrup
Syrup made from corn. Shocker, huh? Oh, it's also high in fructose. Like sugar, it also contains glucose. Unlike sugar, it was really cheap in the late 70s due to government subsidies on the crop. So, high-fructose corn syrup took over as the sweetener of choice in the US, especially in the soft drink industry.
These days, due to artificial sweeteners and fear of health effects, the syrup production has fallen off a bit, but it still remains a significant ingredient in most of our bottled soft drinks! That being said, there are a couple of types of high-fructose corn syrup.
HFCS 90: 90% Fructose & 10% Glucose
HFCS 55 (most commonly used): 55% Fructose & 42% glucose with a few other additives.
Sucrose (table sugar) is 50% Fructose & 50% Glucose. Hm, looks pretty similar.
Syrup vs. Crystal
Of course, the major difference between sugar and corn syrup is their state of being. Corn syrup consisting of around 24% water, and table sugar is completely dry. Also, from a chemical composition standing, fructose and glucose float separately in the syrup and are bound to one another in sugar crystals.
However, these differences make little difference to the nutritional value or health properties of either. Your digestive system goes to work the same on either one of these sweeteners. Sugar is broken down into fructose and glucose and ends up looking exactly the same as high-fructose corn syrup.
How the Body Handles Sugar
The big problem with sugar-based sweeteners is the fructose that they send our way. Of all of our wonderful systems present in the body, our liver is the only organ that can metabolize fructose in significant amounts. And a considerable amount is what you dose yourself with when consuming sweet snacks!
Now, when your liver gets overloaded, guess what it does with the excess fructose? Minute on the lips, a lifetime on the hips. That's right; it is all turned to fat to be stored. If that wasn't bad enough, some of that fat could stick around in your liver, contributing to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (of which I have been diagnosed in the past). Large fructose consumption from any sweet has also been linked to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, obesity, and, ultimately, type 2 diabetes.
So, high-fructose corn syrup and sugar are practically identical to your body when compared directly! Sugar is sugar.
But, fruit has fructose!
Yes, you're right. However, fruit is also a whole food! That means that with the amount of sugar you're getting out of them, you're also getting dosed with fiber, nutrients, and antioxidants. With all these healthy fillers, it's tough to overdose on fructose while eating fruit. However, this is not a challenge... everything in moderation!
Really, the only really adverse effects of fructose come from added sugars. Especially the foods of the Standard American Diet (SAD). Sad, indeed.
So, what've we learned? Well, you can stop saying that the snack that is made with "real cane sugar" is more healthy than your coworker, who is sipping a Dr. Pepper. Because... it's not!
When it comes to added sugars, the excess is damaging to the body... period.