High fructose corn syrup is found in nearly every processed food in American grocery stores. From sodas to baked goods, and basically everything in between, you can be sure that these products contain corn syrup somewhere on their ingredient list. Health experts and organic food proponents have for several years decried the heavy influence that corn syrup has had on the American diet since the 1970s, when the syrup was first introduced as a cheaper substitute to table sugar. The corn-based replacement has been accused of causing the obesity epidemic in the United States, as well as contributing to related ailments like heart disease and diabetes.
So what is high fructose corn syrup, and why is it supposedly so bad for you? Corn syrup is essentially a blend of two sugars derived from the corn plant and processed enzymatically. It’s called “high fructose” because the levels of fructose in the end product are substantially higher than in the original plant. Corn syrup became a popular sugar replacement because of various factors. For one, the corn industry has been heavily subsidized by the government for several decades, meaning that corn is usually overproduced. What’s more, table sugar (or sucrose) was relatively scarce and highly priced. Corn syrup thus became an extremely cheap and more viable alternative for several food producers.
Several studies have tried to link the obesity epidemic in America to the rise in high fructose corn syrup intake. The idea was that high fructose corn syrup somehow interacts with our metabolic processes has lead researchers to conclude that HFCS is more likely to make us gain weight than normal table sugar. Indeed, studies using rats have found this phenomenon to be true. When the public became privy to these rather tentative studies, consumers have demanded less of the product in their goods. Several companies have answered to the demand, advertising their products as not containing any HFCS.
Still, more recent studies have concluded that high fructose corn syrup may not be as bad as was previously thought. A recent Miller-McCune article reported that because HFCS was introduced into the American diet a relatively short time ago, more long-term research is required to determine the true effects of the syrup. The article was written in response to the corn industry asking the FDA to change the name of the syrup to “corn sugar”, saying that it’s a more accurate description of the product. The corn industry hopes that the change will make its product more consumer-friendly.
For consumers who are still wondering whether to purchase products with HFCS, some advise that it is wiser to avoid processed foods in any case. Whether sodas are sweetened with cane sugar or high fructose corn syrup doesn’t change the fact that soft drinks provide little nutritional value.
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