Food Confusion: High Fructose Corn Syrup and SUGAR

Last week I shared how mother trucking addictive sugar is.

To recap, things are classified as addictive when having just a little bit of it makes a girl want MORE, and when you suddenly take it away: WITHDRAWAL.

I'm talking caffeine headaches, sugar deprivation crashes, and the shakes.

Sound familiar?

One of the number one most insidious sweeteners that's impacting our diets these days, as most holistic wellness practitioners preach, is high fructose corn syrup. For many years, this ingredient was slipped into foods from children's juices to your morning sausage patties. I know you're savvy, and you're well educated about high fructose corn syrup NOW, you may even be upset about it. Many food marketers have realized that you're now wise to them, so they've started branding the front of their food packaging with phrases like "no high fructose corn syrup" or "sweetened naturally!"

I would like to take this opportunity to demystify high fructose corn syrup as well as remove the demonization that has prevailed: High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a liquid sweetener alternative to sucrose (table sugar) used in many foods and beverages. Some research has suggested that HFCS is absorbed more rapidly by the body and doesn't trigger insulin secretion (check out the previous post about insulin to get a better understanding of this if you feel the need, but it's not necessary to my point), which means appetite doesn't get regulated. HFCS has been the fall guy for the obesity epidemic, fatty liver syndrome, heart disease, and even cholesterol issues.

Here's the thing, this has been WIDELY studied by real true sceintists. Unbiased. Not looking to demonize food. As per usual with science, further study is needed. From the many studies I've read, science has reached the following conclusions:

  1. There is no unique relationship between HFCS and obesity. (Americans simply eat too much of... everything) 
  2. There is consensus amongst most scientific research that there are no significant metabolic or endocrine response differences between HFCS and sucrose (i.e. table sugar).

Flip over the packaging of many processed foods proclaiming they're "HFCS free" and look at the ingredients: you're probably going to see some other form of sweetener like brown rice syrup, cane sugar, agave syrup, honey, or tapioca syrup. Marketers really like to add the word "organic" to sell the health factor, too.

HFCS and alternative sweeteners have been added to foods for years and years and years and years. Why? Because it makes them more addictive. If we're addicted, we buy more. But that doesn't necessarily mean that HFCS is the only fall guy, here.

I'm going to be real honest with you: I used to demonize HFCS, too. And I still avoid it. But, I actually try to avoid all added sugars, as a general guideline, and here's why:

  1. HFCS has about the same amount of fructose (as a percentage of their total sugar) as honey, cane sugar, or maple syrup/sugar.
  2. HFCS has about an equal or smaller amount of fructose (as a perentage of their total sugar) as many common fruits.
  3. Agave syrup is higher in fructose than most types of HFCS.

Why am I talking about fructose?

Sugar is a generic word used for a broad spectrum of saccharides. I'll save you the science lesson and give you the nuts and bolts here: 

Humans are only capable of absorbing monosaccharides (we have to break down disaccharides like milk/honey or polysaccharides, i.e. starch, cellulose, and glycogen in plants, grains, and animal liver), and all fructose-containing sweeteners seem to share the same sites for absorption in your gut. Honey, fruit sugars, and HFCS reach the small intestines predominantly as monosaccharides. 

There's been a big to-do about the metabolic differences between fructose and glucose in the human body: especially the fact that fructose is rapidly taken up by the liver (hence fatty liver associated with HFCS). Most all scientific research points to the same fact, however:

It is only when any single nutrient is consumed to excess and overwhelms the body's metabolic capacity that detrimental consequences occur. Basically... fructose malabsorption appears only to be a problem when it's not accompanied by enough glucose.

The Bottom Line: When we take measures to reduce sugar in our diets, we don't need to demonize one single type of sugar, rather, we can make aware and conscious choices about the food we're eating and add in more sweet fruits and vegetables (like berries, sweet potatoes, root vegetables, and kiwis), and take it easy on the processed foods and juices.

Listen, it's Mardi Gras season here in Louisiana, and I fully plan on having a slice of King Cake at some point. You should know by now that I am NOT about restriction, deprivation, or cutting out foods.

I am instead about adding in more of the foods that make you feel good, clearing up food confusion, and promoting the idea that food isn't good or bad. It's just food.

If you like this post, check out my upcoming book Glowing Goddess Guru Beast Manifesto. I dig into other food confusion hot subjects and also walk you through the ten steps to flow from fed up (dieting, self-loathing, and over/under-exercising) to well fed (a nourishing revolution of yoga, food, and soul).

National Institute of Health: Straight talk about high-fructose corn syrup: what it is and what it ain't.
US National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health: Sucrose, High-Fructose Corn Syrup, and Fructose, Their Metabolism and Potential Health Effects: What Do We Really Know?
Science Based Medicine: High Fructose Corn Syrup: Tasty Toxin or Slandered Sweetener?
Brittany KrigerComment