The Story Behind High Fructose Corn Syrup

This story goes back to the US Great Depression in the 1930’s. The American government passed a farm bill that subsidized products like corn to help farmers stay in business while providing cheap grains to the starving American people.  Many farmers converted other crops to corn to take advantage of this subsidy. But once the economy bounced back, there was a huge excess in corn production.  With all this cheap corn being overproduced and subsidized, they needed to find new ways to get it off their hands – enter high fructose corn syrup.  They turned the excess corm into high fructose corn syrup. This became a cheap way to get sugar into processed foods and you will find it in many processed and sugary foods, particularly soft drinks. 

Is High Fructose Corn Syrup Just Sugar?
High fructose corn syrup, is a manifestation of sugar, where they took a real food – corn – and processed it to turn it into an unnatural foodstuff that can actually cause damage in the body. People may say “so what?  It’s just fructose and fructose is a natural sugar found in fruit”.  And yes, that is true, fructose is found in fruit. But this corn syrup is processed to be very high in fructose, much more than what would be found in any fruit in nature.

How Unhealthy is High fructose corn syrup?
High fructose corn syrup is not good for your health.  It may in fact have worse health consequences than traditional sugar.  Not only does it spike your blood sugar and cause obesity, but it can cause significant damage to your liver.  The rise of high fructose corn syrup coincides with the rise of a liver condition called “non alcoholic fatty liver disease” or just “fatty liver”.   Liver disease was typically either due to infection (which was relatively uncommon) or an excess of alcohol consumption, which can do a lot of damage to the liver.  Most liver disease was a sign that the individual may be drinking too much alcohol.  But all of a sudden, liver diseases were on the rise in individuals who were not heavy drinkers, and were also being seen in kids who were not drinking at all.  The culprit was often an excess of fructose, from high fructose corn syrup.  Fructose needs to be converted to glucose by the liver in order to be used by the body. High amounts of fructose can take a large toll on the liver – similar to the damage done by alcohol. 

Dr. Lustig, from the Center for Obesity Assessment, Study & Treatment at the University of California, wrote a great article published in 2012 in the journal Nature called “The Toxic Truth About Sugar”. When it comes to liver damage, Dr. Lustig equates high fructose corn syrup to alcohol,  “it’s like ethanol, but without the buzz”.

Hidden High fructose corn syrup
Food manufacturers know that people are looking to avoid high fructose corn syrup in their foods.  So they have found ways to hide it.  Keep an eye out for these deceiving names which is really just high fructose corn syrup in disguise:

  • Maize syrup
  • Glucose syrup
  • Glucose/fructose syrup
  • Fruit fructose
  • Crystalline fructose
  • HFCS
  • Fructose
  • Natural corn syrup
  • Isolated fructose

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