Tuesday, November 15, 2011

High Fructose Corn Syrup: Killer Sweetness

I've said it before and I'll say it again.  Processed food ISN'T GOOD FOR YOU.  Even some who eat it realize this.  Lean Cuisine, Ramen, TV dinners, powdered donuts, whatever name it goes by, it's packed with chemicals, sugar, salt, and other nasty things that'll get you heavy quite quickly.  The devil is in the ingredients, and there are a few that can cause some real damage to your body.  The one I am particularly wary of these days is High Fructose Corn Syrup, or HFCS for short.  It's a sweetening agent used in more foods than you or I could think of off the tops of our heads.  It's EVERYWHERE!  And the more processed a food is, the more likely that it contains this devilish little chemical.  But what exactly is this stuff, and why is it so bad?

HFCS, as stated above, is a sweetening agent.  More specifically, it's a replacement for sucrose, or natural sugar.  It achieves the same sort of taste as sucrose, making foods sweet and yummy without needing overly huge amounts of the stuff.  But why do companies use it, when they could just use sucrose instead?  Well, what do most large scale corporations want to cut down on drastically at every little twist and turn in their manufacturing, shipping, and marketing processes?  Hmmmm...COST perhaps?  Guess what!  Sucrose gets really expensive here in the US because of all the import costs associated with it.  HFCS is by far the cheaper option, and therefore is used in thousands of places instead of sucrose.  And in all honesty, although I'm not big on sugar, pure sucrose is far healthier than this stuff is.

It's interesting too, because in general sucrose and HFCS aren't that far off from each other chemically.  They are both composed of two different sugars, glucose and fructose.  Sucrose is 50-50 glucose and fructose, where as HFCS is 58% fructose and 42% glucose.  Surprisingly though this seemingly insignificant percentage of difference adds up big time.  Here's a quote from Livestrong.com about an animal test confirming what we've all been considering:  

"For a long time, researchers debated whether high fructose corn syrup was different from other sweeteners in its effects on human health. To test this assertion, a group of researchers from Princeton University fed rats a diet high in HFCS. They published their results in a 2010 issue of the journal "Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior." In the study, the HFCS caused abnormal increases of body fat, especially in the abdomen, and circulating levels of triglycerides in the blood. 

Read more: http://www.livestrong.com/article/546302-high-fructose-corn-syrup-hardening-of-the-arteries/#ixzz1dmS7BHRR"

This extra body fat is caused by the larger percentage of fructose in the chemical, which can only be processed by the liver.  In fact, the fructose in HFCS can bypass the digestive process that normally breaks down other, similar sugars, and goes straight to the liver.  This is because unlike in sucrose, where fructose and glucose are bonded together, in HFCS they are free from each other and therefore can be readily absorbed into the bloodstream with no digestion needed.  The fructose gets processed into triglycerides, which in layman's terms means they accumulate as fat.  The more fructose, in this case, the more fat.  If you weren't convinced by an animal study (which I rarely am, considering rats and humans are very different creatures), here's another study that was done on humans, from alternet.org:  

"In a study conducted by University of California researchers, 16 volunteers were given a strictly controlled diet including very high levels of fructose. Another group was given the same diet but with high levels of glucose (regular sugar) replacing the fructose. Over 10 weeks, the volunteers that were given fructose produced new fat cells around their heart, liver and other digestive organs. They also showed signs of food-processing abnormalities linked to diabetes and heart disease. The control group of volunteers on the same diet, but with glucose sugar replacing fructose, did not have these problems."

Such fast changes in ten weeks?  WOW!

  Here are a few more reasons why you should try to avoid HFCS whenever possible:

Hardening of the arteries:  Because of the excess triglycerides HFCS helps to produce, your artery walls can begin to harden from excess fat.  This can lead to heart disease, something you DO NOT WANT in older (or younger) age.  

Obesity:  As is evidenced by what has already been said so far, HFCS is one of the largest links to obesity out there in modern society.  The evidence keeps pouring in that those who consume more food and drink containing HFCS have much larger risks of becoming obese.  In fact as HFCS was introduced into mainstream processed foods back in the 70's, its increased usage has almost exactly mirrored the increase in obese individuals.  Because the unbonded fructose in HFCS is almost immediately absorbed into the bloodstream (with no other digestive processes), it's easy to see why it can cause so much fat gain so quickly.  

Keeps You Hungry:  HFCS plays another role in weight gain, this one much more devious, as you might not even know it's happening.  Our body has a few well designed "full" triggers in it that help us to realize when we've eaten enough for our metabolic needs.  One such trigger is called ghrelin, an enzyme secreted by the stomach to cause hunger.  In normal food consumption, ghrelin is eventually neutralized or "shut off" in order to let us know that we're full.  However HFCS does not deactivate ghrelin, and therefore can prevent us from knowing when we've eaten enough.  That's not good, especially on a diet.  

Other health effects related to HFCS include: Pancreatic cancer, kidney stones, and hair loss.  It's not something you want to consume much of, that's for sure.

Here's a final word of warning.  HFCS can hide in foods you might not expect, and may be doing more damage than you think.  Here's a few foods that contain HFCS that may have slipped under your radar:

Bread:  Many breads, even the 100% whole wheat variations, contain HFCS.  These slices can sabotage your otherwise healthy sandwhich.  The solution?  Spend a little extra time in the grocery store and read the ingredients on a few different brands.  Some are made with NO ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS, and these are the brands you should buy.  Trust me, that little extra time will help bigtime.

Canned/Bottled Drinks:  Yup, you guessed it.  Soda, and other main stream energy drinks usually have HFCS in their ingredients.  They'll pull you in with flashy colors and claims of electrolyte replenishment, but believe me they won't do you much good.  Again, read the ingredients, and choose wisely.  Usually nothing beats good ol' water.  

Cereal:  Even your breakfast may be sabotaged!  Many Kelloggs products contain HFCS, including Raisin Bran and Rice Krispies, two very famous breakfast cereals.  However many bran-flake variations include HFCS as well, so don't think you're off the hook just because you're getting high fiber.  READ THE INGREDIENTS!!!

Crackers:  Nabisco Wheat Thins contain a good amount of HFCS, which is unforunate because I love the things.  Watch your consumption of little appetizer type foods, as they can usually add up quickly, and if they contain the bad stuff then you're in for some trouble with your diet.  I'll just keep saying it I guess, to hammer it through your head.  Read....the...ingredients......PLEASE.  

Sauces/Salad Dresssings:  Last but not least, many popular sauces contain HFCS, including A1 steak sauce.    Also, salad dressings are quite famous for large amounts of HFCS, another reason to keep your salad dry (read my healthy salad article here:  ).  And you know what I'm going to say next.  In fact, I'm not even going to say it.  Just do it.  Please.  

Here's a list of many, many, MANY foods that contain HFCS.  The list is by no means complete, but gives a good idea of how this artificial sweetener has infiltrated our diets:  http://www.accidentalhedonist.com/index.php/2005/06/09/foods_and_products_containing_high_fruct

Bottom Line:  HFCS might be hard to remove from your diet completely.  That's ok, because accepting it's there and making an effort to avoid it will make a HUGE difference.  Just try to get a good majority of it out of your mouth, and I bet you'll be pleasantly surprised by the difference.  You'll have done your body a world of good.  

READ THE INGREDIENTS....and good luck!!!!

A few references:  

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