Nobody is claiming white table sugar is good for you, but HFCS stands accused of being much worse. Three days ago the LA Times reported that sugar producers filed suit against the Corn Refiners Association for false advertising. The Corn Refiners Association is known for ads that claim “high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is nutritionally the same as table sugar” and that “your body can’t tell the difference”. This controversy has roiled scientific conferences for years. It is hotly debated in corporate boardrooms, and now the courts get to weigh in.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SUGAR AND HFCS
Much of the confusion lies in that both products–white table sugar and HFCS–are made from two basic simple sugars known as monosaccharides: glucose and fructose. In white table sugar one molecule of each is bound together to make a disaccharide called sucrose. The glucose and fructose molecules exist in a one-to-one ratio. Commercial sources of sucrose include sugar beets and sugar cane. This is the conceptual essence of “natural”–the plants make the sucrose.
To make HFCS, corn syrup is manipulated in a factory to create different ratios of glucose to fructose. The most common formula in food manufacturing is 55% fructose and 45% glucose, but there are formulas for up to 90% fructose. This is most certainly not “natural”.
YOUR BODY KNOWS THE DIFFERENCE
HFCS is not the same nutritionally as sucrose, and your body certainly knows the difference. Fructose is metabolized very differently than glucose. All cells can use glucose for fuel. Fructose must first be metabolized in the liver and converted to glucose. When high levels of fructose are consumed, the excess energy is laid down as fat in the liver. This process can progress to fatty liver disease, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), and eventually to cirrhosis.
It is possible to over consume fructose without HFCS. This maybe difficult with actual fruit, but people do it all the time with excessive intake of juice. Juice is just not the same as the fruit itself.
Juicing means most of the fiber is left behind. While someone would rarely eat more than one orange, a small 10 oz glass of juice contains the calories and fructose of 2 1/2 oranges. I have witnessed restaurants serve 20-24 ounces of juice as a single serving and ask if someone wants a refill.
HFCS has become the primary sweetening of all sodas, fruit drinks, sweetened teas, energy drinks and the like. It is cheaper than table sugar. The number of these products has swelled enormously over the years. Just take a look at your local grocery-convenience-liquor-drug store. Many producers have the nerve to promote these products as “health foods” and have designed labels to convey a fresh and wholesome image.
HFCS is also used as a filler, thickener and taste enhancer in all sorts of processed foods, from salad dressings and peanut butter to frozen dinners and condiments. It is everywhere.
ALCOHOL WITHOUT THE BUZZ
Endocrinologist, David Lustig, MD, of UC San Francisco has taken to calling HFCS as “alcohol without the buzz”. He writes and speaks vehemently about the consequences of our relatively recent experiment with this cheap and ubiquitous source of sweetening in our food supply. HFCS didn’t start entering our food supply until the 1970’s. It is no coincidence that statisticians citing increasing rate of childhood obesity use 1970 data as a starting point.
Currently HFCS holds “generally regarded as safe” (GRAS) status according to the FDA. A National Institute of Health website discussing NASH states the cause is unknown and there is no known cure. Just how long before some of this changes?