Do You Know Why You Don’t Like High Fructose Corn Syrup?

If I asked you if you liked High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), you’d probably say “No” and if I asked “why?”, the answer would most probably be “because it’s bad for you” and if I continued asking, “why is it bad for you?”, I would most likely not get an answer. Is it because somebody told you? Because you heard/read something about it somewhere? Hmmm? Spoiler alert: I don’t like HFCS either but I know why & so will you…read.

 

What is HFCS?

HFCS is a sweetener derived from corn that is composed of 45% glucose & 55% fructose. In comparison, sugar is composed of 50% glucose & 50% fructose. Both HFCS and sugar are carbohydrates with 4 kcal/g. It doesn’t take a scientist to see that they are almost identical in composition. So why is HFCS so much worse than sugar, or is it?

Side note: the name HFCS is very confusing and often used interchangeably with corn syrup and/or fructose. Corn Syrup(100% glucose) and pure fructose (100% fructose) are NOT the same as HFCS!

Until the mid 60’s refined sugar (sucrose) was the primary sweetener around the world but in the mid 80’s HFCS was introduced as the healthful alternative to the evilness of sugar…today it’s the reverse. It’s a liquid syrup that can be pumped from delivery vehicles to storage and mixing tanks, requiring only little dilution. Derived from corn, which is dependable, renewable, and abundantly grown right here in the USA = cheap!! Sucrose is much more susceptible to fluctuating prices in the market. So it’s no surprise that HFCS became quickly the new preferred sweetener in the US (the rest of the world still uses predominantly sucrose). Since HFCS is now found in many food items, it is conveniently used as a scapegoat for the growing obesity epidemic, but is it true? Not really. Statistics show that even though the type of sweetener has changed, the total amount has not. The increase in obesity and BMI has to be put into context with many other changes such as decrease in physical activity, increase in overall daily caloric intake, increase in sedentary jobs and entertainment, changes in transportation/infrastructure, to name a few. And maybe the fact that Americans consume 100 lbs sugar per person per year = 22 tsp/day could be a reason why obesity rates are on the rise?

But isnt’ it processed differently by the body?

I was unable to find any research showing that HFCS is metabolized differently than sugar. There is however a difference in how the body processes the individual components: glucose and fructose. Fructose is metabolized by the liver and overconsumption of fructose leads to excess fat in the liver, which has negative health consequences. More on this topic is beyond the scope of this article so I’ll stop right here.

So what’s the problem with HFCS?

Most corn is grown as monoculture, which means that the land is exclusively used for corn, not rotated among crops as is typical and as needed to keep the soil healthy. This causes the soil to be depleted of nutrients, top soil reduction and erosion. Quality of the soil becomes lower and lower, which causes farmers to use more pathogens and pesticides to continue growth for as long as possible. And because corn is heavily subsidized it is more profitable to spend more on pesticides and grow corn than to rotate crops to keep the soil healthy.

Conclusion: Consuming HFCS is not any worse than any other sugar. The problem isn’t overconsumption of HFCS but overconsumption of all types of added sugars. What’s undeniable is the devastating environmental implication corn growth has and that’s my reason for disliking HFCS. What’s yours?

 

References:

White, J. (2008). Straight talk about high-fructose corn syrup: what it is and what it ain’t. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 88(suppl): 1716S-21S

Rizkalla, S. (2010). Health implications of fructose consumption: A review of recent data. Nutrition & Metabolism, 7(82)

Fulgoni, V. (2008). High-fructose corn syrup: everything you wanted to know, but were afraid to ask. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 88(supple):1715S

 

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The Soy Controversy – Is There A Dark Side to Soy?

Since the 90’s, more than 10,000 studies have been conducted on evaluating different soy products, their nutritional and metabolic benefits, and their function in disease prevention and reduction.

But, as with all studies, the more you know, the more confusing and contradicting information seems to get. It is difficult and time-consuming to weed through all the information that is thrown at us and it is even more difficult to find credible and peer-reviewed research that has actual scientific backing. Loads of information that is being put out by “experts” is nothing but clever marketing ploys to sell a product without any research to back it up.

Always question information, 

especially if it is supposed to be “good” or “bad” for you. 

Don’t just take somebody else’s opinion; ask them to tell you what they are basing their “expertise” on.

What makes the soy bean so special and controversial is its unique source of isoflavones, called phytoestrogens. These phytoestrogens exhibit weak estrogen-like  effects and have received a lot of scientific attention because of the concern that they might stimulate the growth of existing estrogen-sensitive breast tumors. However, the majority of  of studies researching the association between soy consumption and breast cancer risk, have found an inverse relationship between the two. Studies show that the soy intake during early life may both reduce breast cancer risk and risk of recurrence and that a diet rich in isoflavones from soy products also reduces the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer.

Results from several studies also suggests that soy consumption might reduce the risk of prostate cancer and coronary heart disease. Clinical studies of soy-based diets revealed that soy consumption significantly decreased total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.  Promising research studies also show the potential benefit of increased soy consumption on bone health especially for postmenopausal women but more research is needed.

I was not able to find any credible evidence to suggest that consumption of traditional soy products high in isoflavones has adverse effects in healthy individuals. The latter (healthy individuals) is very important. You should always consult a health professional before increasing your soy consumption considerably as it may have adverse affects depending on your particular health condition. As with everything, moderation is key. Don’t replace every protein source with soy and when consuming soy products, be sure they are quality products. Beware of many commercial soy products as they have little or no isoflavones but are high in sugars and fillers. Another factor to take into account is that a large number of soy crops in the United States are genetically modified and therefore can have significantly different effects.

Be informed about what you put in your body!

My little disclaimer: as mentioned above, thousands of studies have been done on soy and of course I have not read every single one of them. I chose about 20 peer-reviewed articles and reviews published in well-known and reputable magazines. This article is designed to give you unbiased and factual information obtained from those articles so you can make a more informed decision when consuming soy products.

References:

Dai Q, Franke AA, Yu H, Shu XO, Jin F, Hebert JR, Custer LJ, Gao YT, Zheng W. (2003). Urinary phytoestrogen excretion and breast cancer risk: evaluating potential effect modifiers endogenous estrogens and anthropometrics. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 12(6):497-502.

Goodman MT, Shvetsov YB, Wilkens LR, Franke AA, Le Marchand L, Kakazu KK, Nomura AM, Henderson BE, Kolonel LN. (2009). Urinary phytoestrogen excretion and postmenopausal breast cancer risk: the multiethnic cohort study. Cancer Prev Res., 2(10):887-94.

Guha N, Kwan ML, Quesenberry CP Jr, Weltzien EK, Castillo AL, Caan BJ. (2009). Soy isoflavones and risk of cancer recurrence in a cohort of breast cancer survivors: the Life  After Cancer Epidemiology study. Breast Cancer Res Treat., 118(2):395-405

Harkness, L. (2004) Soy and bone. Where do we stand?  Orthop Nurs. 23(1):12-7

Hilakivi-Clarke, L., Andrade, J.E., Helferich, W. (2010). Is soy consumption good or bad for the breast? Journal of Nutrition

Messina, M. (2010). Insights Gained from 20 Years of Soy Research. Journal of Nutrition

Song WO, Chun OK, Hwang I, Shin HS, Kim BG, Kim KS, Lee SY, Shin D, Lee SG. (2007). Soy isoflavones as safe functional ingredients. Journal of Med. Food;10(4):571-80.