By Michael A. Smith, MD
high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is totally safe to consume in moderate amounts. Of course, this is according to the Corn Refiners Association which paid big money for the ad.
Now I'm not all that cynical by nature, but since the Corn Refiners Association certainly seems to have a vested interest in protecting its product, I think it might be best for us to investigate the safety of HFCS for ourselves. Let's do it.
Nothing but the Facts about High Fructose Corn SyrupHigh fructose corn syrup is produced when corn syrup goes through enzymatic processing to convert some of its glucose into fructose in order to make it taste sweeter. In the United States, consumer foods and products often use high fructose corn syrup as a sweetener.
It's become absurdly common in processed foods and beverages including breads, cereals, breakfast bars, energy bars, candies, lunch meats, dairy products, canned foods, and, well ... pretty much everything.
There are two common types of HFCS:
1. HFCS 42 — The more common of the two, this is a blend of 42% fructose and 53% glucose. The rest is water. It’s found in pre-packaged foods, canned foods and baked items.
2. HFCS 55 — This syrup is composed of 55% fructose and 42% glucose. The rest is water. HFCS 55 is used mostly in soda and flavored drinks.
Believe it or not, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) first exposed the dangers of HFCS. They actually released information showing a strong correlation between obesity and total fructose consumption, including HFCS. The data they put together showed a rise in obesity mirrored by the rise in total fructose, free fructose and HFCS consumption.1
The CDC is not saying that this is a cause-effect relationship. As we all know, there are many factors that contribute to obesity. However, they are citing HFCS as a contributor to obesity. So what else can be linked to HFCS consumption? Keep on reading to find out.
Processed Fructose Disrupts Fat Metabolism2 High and prolonged ingestion of processed fructose increases unfavorable lipid profiles in the body — specifically a rise in blood triglycerides — and disrupts insulin sensitivity.3,4
A recent study of 48 adults showed that consumption of HFCS-sweetened beverages for 2 weeks at 25% of daily energy requirements increased risk factors for cardiovascular disease comparably with fructose and more than glucose in young adults.5
With changes in lipid profiles and an increased risk for heart disease, it seems pretty clear that fructose ingestion is a contributor to plaque buildup and narrowing of the blood vessels — a ticking time bomb for the development of both strokes and heart attacks.
Please note: fructose is a natural sugar found in fruit. But the amount of fructose in fruit is far less than in HFCS and has far less of an impact on lipid profiles.
More Health Consequences of High Fructose Corn SyrupLet's keep this as simple as possible. Here's a straightforward list of additional health consequences that can be linked to HFCS (some based on animal models):
- Insulin resistance6
- Type 2 diabetes6
- Metabolic syndrome7
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease8
Practical Steps for Avoiding HFCSHere at Life Extension®, we like to promote a practical, preventive approach to health. And let’s be honest — eliminating "corn sugar" entirely from your diet probably isn't very practical. In any case, the first thing you need to do is identify the foods that are loaded with HFCS. You should consider completely avoiding these products if possible:
- Pre-packaged Baked Items
- Pre-packaged Stuffing & Breads
- Crackers & Related Snacks
- Shake’n Bake Products
- Fruit Punch
- Juice Boxes
- Specialty Coffee Drinks (Frappuccinos)
- Energy Drinks
- Canned fruits
- Canned vegetables
- Candies & Cookies
- All Cereals (including healthy ones, see below)
- Lunch Meats
- Processed Cheeses
- Pickled vegetables
- Jams & Jellies
- Low Fat Yogurt
- Low Fat Salad Dressings
- Low Fat Ice Cream Products
- Heart Healthy Cereals
- Low Calorie Snacks
- Low Fat Peanut Butter
Nutritional Steps to Take — Protect Against AGEsSince fructose promotes problems with insulin sensitivity and may disrupt normal sugar metabolism, it’s important to protect yourself against the formation of advanced glycation end-products (AGEs). These aging molecules are linked to many of the side effects of diabetes.10 The following supplements help to promote healthy sugar metabolism and may prevent the formation and buildup of AGEs. People who consume a lot of HFCS should definitely consider them:
1. Benfotiamine — a form of vitamin B1 that blocks three of the major pathways in which sugar causes damage.11 We suggest 100 to 400 mg/day.
2. Carnosine — a small protein that suppresses diabetes complications by preventing glycation. We suggest 1,000 mg/day.12,13
3. Pyridoxal 5’-phosphate — The latest information shows that pyridoxal 5’-phosphate may also be of significant help in preventing the formation of these aging molecules and diabetes. We suggest 100 mg/day.14
"Corn Sugar" — A Sweet Name for a False Sense of SafetyRemember, no matter how creative the Corn Refiners Association gets with its branding efforts, HFCS is not something that you should be eating regularly, if at all.
Despite what those bright and creative ads are trying to tell you, "corn sugar," a.k.a. high fructose corn syrup, is NOT the same as glucose or regular sugar. As a matter of fact, processed fructose is even worse for us that we previously thought.
No amount of clever branding is going to change that. Our advice? Be proactive about your health and avoid HFCS at all costs.
What do you think about HFCS infiltrating our food choices? Share your take in the comments below.
- Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;79:537-543. PMID: 15051594
- Nutr Metab (Lond). 2005 Feb 21;2(1):5.
- Am J Clin Nutr. 2002 Nov;76(5):911-22.
- Front Biosci. 2003 Jan 1;8:d464-76.
- J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2011 Oct;96(10):E1596-605.
- Clin Transl Sci. 2011 Aug;4(4):243-52.
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- J Hepatol. 2008 Jun;48(6):993-9.
- Curr Opin Rheumatol. 2011 Mar;23(2):192-202.
- Diabetes Obes Metab. 2007 May;9(3):233-45.
- Altern Med Rev. 2006 Sep;11(3):238-42.
- Sci Aging Knowledge Environ. 2005 May 4;2005(18):pe12.
- FEBS Lett. 2007 Mar 6;581(5):1067-70.
- Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2008 Apr;1126:288-90.