I have been getting a lot of questions lately about High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) given the new commercials you see popping up. While what they say is somewhat correct, I think there is more to the story.
First off, let’s discuss what HFCS actually is. Pure corn syrup is 100% glucose so HFCS is any corn syrup that has undergone processing to increase the fructose content and then combined with pure corn syrup. The most common types are 55%:45% ratio of fructose:glucose (found mostly in soft drinks) and 42%:58% ratio of fructose:glucose (found in baked goods).
So why do manufacturers use it? HFCS is used in baked goods because it browns nicely when cooked, maintains moisture and texture and protects freshness. It is also cheaper to use due to corn subsidies and its ease of use.
Both table sugar and HFCS are equal in calories and sweetness. However, they are bonded differently and therefore metabolized differently. HFCS actually decreases insulin and leptin production (two hormones that help our bodies use sugar for energy) and increases fat production. The glycemic index of HFCS has yet to be determined but it is expected to be similar to honey or table sugar. Research has not yet proven a cause and effect between HFCS and obesity but research is on-going.
Given these facts, I would never recommend eating HFCS. However, what you need to understand is that any sweetener, no matter how natural or refined, is still a simple sugar and mostly devoid of any nutritional value. Ultimately, the types of foods that have HFCS in them (baked goods, sweets, candy, treats, sweetened beverages and juices) should be avoided for many other reasons as well. I am less concerned with HFCS found in loaves of bread, tortillas, etc. Usually it is not one of the first few ingredients and the amount is low. Obviously, if you can find one without, all the better. But even if the HFCS wasn’t there, some other sweetener would be. Still beware of sweeteners such as “brown rice syrup” or “organic cane sugar”. They sound good, but really aren’t. Having said that, I would try to use more natural sweeteners such as honey, dark maple syrup or dark molasses…within reason. They aren’t “good” for you, but just less processed. Portion sizes still need to be considered.
Emily Fonnesbeck RD,CD