Thursday, July 7, 2011

Silly Chefs, High Fructose Corn Syrup is Not the Enemy

My husband came home from work yesterday with an article from The Wall Street Journal that a co-worker had given him about chefs replacing high fructose corn syrup with other forms of sugar in their food (Sweet Revenge, Chefs Pour on the Sugar). The co-worker knew I worked for a corn and grain association and wanted my opinion.

I provided him with the following:

Even though I work for corn farmers, I don’t tell people it’s okay to eat a bunch of HFCS. However, if you want to eat it, it’s as safe as other forms of sugar. If you look at the chemical make-up of HFCS, it is almost identical to table sugar.

Sucrose (table sugar from sugar cane) is a disaccharide of a glucose and fructose molecule. So 50:50 glucose fructose. Fructose and glucose molecules are free floating in HFCS. The most popular form of HFCS is 55% fructose/41% glucose (few extra sugars floating around) because it has a similar sweetness as sucrose. There is another form that actually has less fructose – 42% fructose and 53%, and this is used for baked goods in most applications. 90% fructose syrup is made, but is usually only used to increase the fructose levels of HFCS-42.

Once the sucrose hits your mouth, the weak bond between the glucose and fructose is broken down, so again, almost identical to HFCS.

Many of the studies that say that HFCS is metabolized differently, or grows pancreatic cancer cells, etc. is actually research done comparing fructose to glucose. Fructose does affect us differently than glucose… BUT there is also fructose in sugar from sugar cane and sugar beets and even fruit. So, should we not eat fruit?

(Side Note: I know for a fact that fructose does a number on my system... I get absolutely ravenous after I eat an apple and some other fruits - according to Dr. Oz, the fructose is affecting my appetite hormone ghrelin and making my belly growl - but I still eat the apples. I just add a little peanut butter to help fuel my leptin - the "I'm full" hormone.)

Here is where the long chemical name gets HFCS in trouble. When you have a name that sounds like a “chemical,” people will look at it as a “chemical.” Even though all of our food is a conglomerate of many molecules, “chemical” usually conjures images of unnatural liquids in a laboratory. I appreciate the Corn Refiners Association trying to change the name to corn sugar, but it may be too late for that. Even "corn syrup" sounds better, but the corn sryup you buy at the grocery is primarily glucose and not as sweet.

Most all processed sugars are created the same way. The starch or sugars in their raw form have to be converted by enzymes to more simple sugars. In sugar cane and sweet sorghum, they add enzymes to the juice from the plants and then cook it down, evaporating the water. To make HFCS, they add enzymes to the corn syrup, to yield more fructose. Even bees add enzymes from their saliva to convert the nectar into honey. And guess what? Honey contains more fructose than glucose.

HFCS is also in a bad spot because it is used in a lot of processed foods: 1) it is easier to transport and blend, 2) has better preserving benefits, 3) provides a better texture for some products, and 4) may enhance fruit flavors. Since it is in a lot of stuff that may not be good for us to begin with, it usually gets a finger pointed in its direction for causing obesity. But processed foods have a whole host of ingredients that are not on the nutritionally-beneficial list. Replace HFCS with sugar, as many are doing, your problem is not solved.

As a mom concerned about nutrition for myself and my family, I try to reduce all forms of processed sugar from our diets. BUT come treat time, I don’t prohibit things made with HFCS. It’s no better or worse in my mind as any other sugar.

If you are interested in further reading, I will obviously direct you to which is a site of the Corn Refiner’s Association, but also check out the Fructose entry on Wikipedia. This is the best “scientific” explanation of fructose I have seen. I read through the HFCS entry on Wikipedia, and I think there is a lot of biased information. Good luck in your endeavors to discover the truth.
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