Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Something I didn't know about a common ingredient

I'm surprised (and not very happy) to learn that high-fructose corn syrup, a common ingredient in ready-to-use foods, is also much more of a health hazard than the sugar it replaces. The Daily Mail reports:

Why is it so hard to stop at eating just one biscuit and so easy to finish off the packet?

How is it that one spoonful of ice cream can turn into half the tub?

It might not be just a lack of willpower that’s to blame, but a type of sugar based on one found in fruit.

We tend to think of fruit as healthy, but new research suggests that too much fruit - or the sugar found in fruit - is actually bad for us.

The problem is glucose-fructose syrup.

This is actually corn syrup that has been processed using enzymes to convert its glucose into fructose (or fruit sugar).

This is then mixed with glucose from pure corn syrup. Because it is cheaper than regular cane sugar, glucose-fructose syrup is increasingly being used in processed foods, such as fizzy drinks.

It’s easy to see its appeal from the manufacturer’s point of view - not only is it cheap, but it also helps to keep foods moist, which boosts a product’s shelf life.

It also helps to provide texture to food such as cereal bars and biscuits, making them chewy, and thickens up ice cream and yoghurt drinks.

And it’s not just used in obviously sweet foods - glucose-fructose syrup is also found in lots of products you wouldn’t necessarily imagine contain it, such as cereal.

Often it appears in product ingredients lists as ‘glucose-fructose syrup’, ‘high fructose corn syrup’, or ‘HFCS’, which is the name used by some manufacturers.

The problem is that glucose-fructose seems to trick the brain into thinking you need more food, say experts.

Worse, it can trigger the growth of fat cells around the heart, liver and other vital organs and even cause diabetes, obesity and heart disease, according to a new study.

Because of its health risks, it’s been dubbed the ‘Devil’s candy’ in the U.S. and, in the face of a consumer backlash, some manufacturers have been forced to re-think their product ingredients, returning to sugar.

It’s the fructose part which is being blamed for artificially boosting appetite and the health problems. Fructose gives us confused messages about satiety, explains Dr Carel Le Roux, consultant in metabolic medicine at Imperial College London.

‘When we eat sugar, our body releases insulin which tells the brain that we have had enough to eat.

‘High insulin levels are one of the factors that dampen the appetite,’ he says.

But fructose doesn’t trigger as much of an insulin response as regular sugar, so the brain won’t get the message that you are full.’

As well as tricking you into eating more, the syrup has worrying effects on health. Previous studies have linked fructose with high blood levels of triglycerides - a type of blood fat which, in excess, can increase the risk of heart disease. And there is ongoing research into whether fructose can affect kidney health. Fructose can also affect blood pressure.

A study at Colorado University, in the U.S., looked at more than 4,500 people with no history of hypertension, and found that those who ate or drank more than 74 grams a day of fructose (the same as two-and-a-half sugary drinks) increased their risk of high blood pressure by up to 87 per cent.

In a recent study, scientists at the University of California have found that fruit sugar is more readily turned into fat in the liver than glucose is; this increases your risk of suffering from a fatty liver, which is linked to liver disease and Type 2 diabetes.

. . .

... fructose, unlike other sugars, ends up in the liver in a relatively unbroken down state; this disrupts the mechanisms that instruct the body whether to store or burn fat.

Molecular biologist Kimber Stanhope ... says this is the first evidence that fructose increases heart disease and diabetes independently, and not simply because it has caused weight gain.

‘We didn’t see any of these changes in the people eating glucose,’ he said. Experts believe that the rise in childhood diabetes could be linked to the syrup.

There's more at the link.

OK, perhaps I was an uninformed eater, but I hadn't heard of these side effects before; and looking at the labels of food in my pantry, I'm horrified to find how many of them include this ingredient. I'll certainly be a more informed - and much more careful - shopper from now on!



hondo3777 said...
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skreidle said...

Oh, absolutely--I'm sorry you're so late in hearing about this. I know that a lot of the research is borderline inconclusive (and the HFCS lobby does everything in their power to minimize the issues and risks, even releasing pro-HFCS TV ads--which have been mocked and parodied on YouTube, easy to find), but there's enough solid research out there to be seriously concerned. It really -is- in the vast majority of food products--even bread!--but can be avoided if you keep a sharp eye out and make notes about which brands and product lines are HFCS-free. Some even label themselves HFCS-free, knowing the public opinion is moving away from it!

Anonymous said...

It looks to me as if this article is confligating glucose-fruitose with pure fruitose. My nutitionist claims that pure fruitose is better for you then glucose-type sugars BECAUSE the fruitose DOESN'T trigger a large surge of insulin. Of course as with any food-group too much of it is not healthy.

D R Zinn said...

Along these lines, Peter, Google up "Paleolithic diet." HFCS spikes insulin. So does wheat, rice, starch...

Anonymous said...

I've avoided HFCS as much as possible over the last 4 years.


Billll said...

Sugar producers have high tariffs against imported cane sugar, so the price is artificially high. Hence we use corn sugar instead.

Doesn't taste as good, costs more, and isn't good for you, but the U.S. sugar growers thank you for the subsidy.

reflectoscope said...

If HFCS goes the way of the dodo and I can get coca-cola with cane sugar in it again, I'll be happy.

I'd refer you to the rule about not eating anything your grandmother wouldn't recognize re HFCS and as I'm starting to realize a lot of other things too.


skreidle said...

reflectoscope: Keep an eye out for Mexican Coca-Cola, as well as Pepsi Throwback, Mountain Dew Throwback, and Heritage Dr Pepper, not to mention anything from Jones Soda--real-sugar sodas are out there! :)