Made from the starch of corn, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a sweetener used in many countries for its low cost. Having similar properties to granulated sugar, it has been proven that high-fructose corn syrup is unhealthy and its prevalence has become a real issue. With the increasing concerns toward health and the special place healthy habits have taken in our diet, it might be relevant to understand what HFCS truly is and why it is bad for you.
As I already stated, high-fructose corn syrup is made from corn starch, which is extracted from corn kennels in order to produce corn syrup. This syrup can be used as is or can be further transformed with the help of various enzymes to create HFCS. In this process, some of the glucose found in corn syrup is altered into fructose. Therefore, high-fructose corn syrup usually contains glucose and fructose, along with other ingredients. Its concentration in fructose is most of the time either 42% or 55%, depending on it purpose. For instance, the least concentrated option is generally used for processed foods, while the other is mostly found in soft drinks.
HFCS is an ingredient found in many products and you might even consume it from time to time without even being aware of its presence. It is used in a lot of popular syrup brands available on store shelves – in fact, their first or second ingredient is usually HFCS. Other than that, two of the greatest sources of added sugar are soda and candies, in which high-fructose corn syrup can often be found in large amounts. Even foods you may perceive as healthy also contain this sweet derivative of corn starch, such as sweetened yogurt, salad dressings and granola bars, which you may or may not buy on a regular basis. The list of ingredients on all those products can be hard to decipher, especially with all the elaborate names and terms given to chemical additives such as high-fructose corn syrup. Completely avoiding it can thus be a much harder task than it seems.
In some countries, HFCS has been completely banned, which is the case for places such as Sweden, India and Ireland, among others. In France, China, Australia and the United Kingdom, its use has been considerably reduced. Contrary to popular beliefs, this additive has not been completely prohibited by European countries. A quota has simply been implemented in order to protect agricultural development across its many territories, as high-fructose corn syrup often comes from North America due to its abundancy in corn. In Canada, its consumption has gradually increased over the years and is now found in many foods. But its use in HFCS is nowhere near that of the United States, which is the largest high-fructose corn syrup provider and consumer in the world.
Studies have shown that excessive intake of HFCS is very unhealthy, notably because of the way it is digested by our body. The liver has to transform fructose into glucose before it can be absorbed, and too large amounts of fructose are instead converted into fat. This particular type of sugar is also known to stimulate the accumulation of fat around your organs, which can be especially treacherous for your health. The consequences of such fat build-up can be fatal, as it can cause both diabetes and heart disease, along with other serious conditions such as fatty liver disease. A study conducted in 2012 showed that diabetes rates are 20% higher in countries where HFCS is most available and consumed. Plus, high-fructose corn syrup is completely lacking any essential or good nutrients, which is not the case for more natural sweeteners like pure maple syrup.
Moreover, it has been proven that high-fructose corn syrup increases the average calory intake you consume daily, which can cause noticeably weight gain. That is explained by the fact that HFCS is found in many unhealthy products that can lead to obesity if not consumed with parsimony. Unreasonable intake of HFCS can also lead to inflammation, which increases the risk of cancer and diseases like gout. Simply put, consuming too much of this derivative of corn starch can literally reduce your life expectancy, and the same goes for granulated sugar.
The idea is not to completely ban high-fructose corn syrup from your life all of a sudden, as it would prove quite a difficult task. After all, it is found in many foods most of us enjoy. But by being aware of its repercussions, it is possible for you to reduce your consumption of certain products filled with HFCS and replace them by healthier alternatives. For instance, the pancake syrup bottle in your pantry can easily be swapped out with real maple syrup, which contains lots of good stuff and – let’s be honest – is downright delicious.