Avoid the Deadliest Sweetener

Monday, 26 April 2010 08:46 AM

High-fructose corn syrup, a sweetener found in almost all types of processed foods and drinks, can have deadly consequences. By knowing what to look for, you can avoid its risks by choosing foods with healthier ingredients.

Researchers at Princeton University have found that in diets with equal calories, high-fructose corn syrup leads to significantly more weight gain than regular sugar. And it increases risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes appreciably more than sugar.

Earlier studies have drawn similar conclusions. Although not all scientists agree, it appears that unlike sugar, high-fructose corn syrup interferes with normal hormonal signals that make us feel satisfied or “full” after eating. This phenomenon promotes fat storage.

Princeton researchers studied rats and found that animals eating high-fructose corn syrup gained 48 percent more weight than those whose food did not contain the sweetener. Both groups ate the same number of calories. In humans, researchers extrapolated, the weight gain would be equivalent to a 200-pound man adding 96 pounds.

How It Tricks Our System

When we eat, the hormone insulin is secreted to deliver fuel to cells in the form of blood glucose so that it can be used to produce energy. Another hormone, leptin, signals when we have eaten enough, thereby regulating appetite.

High-fructose corn syrup, for reasons that are not yet fully understood, seems to bypass this mechanism. In effect, it stops our bodies from detecting that we have consumed enough food. Therefore, we continue to eat. And, it decreases our ability to efficiently burn calories.

Consequences include more body fat, especially around the abdomen, which promotes internal inflammation and contributes to diabetes and heart disease. And the sweetener raises triglyceride, blood fats that, at elevated levels, contribute to development of disease.

The Stuff Is Everywhere

A man-made commodity derived from corn, high-fructose corn syrup is not the same as corn syrup. Originally invented in Japan, it began to replace sugar in soft drinks and processed foods in the United States in the 1970s, and its use has increased ever since.

There are several reasons why the sweetener became extremely popular: Corn, the raw material, is abundant. Until the past couple of years, high-fructose corn syrup was much cheaper than sugar. And, in addition to adding sweetness, it improves shelf life, texture, and flavor of food and reduces the likelihood of freezer burn.

By replacing sugar with lower-cost high-fructose corn syrup, manufacturers of soda (and some iced teas and juice drinks) have been able to sell supersized drinks for very low prices. This development dramatically increased the amount of soda we drink, and the trend has paralleled the expansion of American waistlines.

The sweetener has also been added to many processed foods that did not, traditionally, contain sugar. These include sauces, soups, dips, packaged entrees, side dishes, frozen meals, snacks, and all types of baked foods, including breads and buns that we don’t consider “sweet.”

In effect, high-fructose corn syrup has “sweetened” the process for food manufacturers by improving shelf life and appeal of low-quality food, and increasing profit margins. You won’t find it in Granny’s recipes or even in newer cookbooks, because you can’t buy high-fructose corn syrup in a bottle. It’s only used in mass production of foods and beverages.

The Simple Solution

The unhealthy sweetener is relatively simple to avoid, although the process may seem painstaking at first. Check ingredients on food labels. For any product that contains high-fructose corn syrup, find a similar one without it.

Be sure to check cereals, cookies, ice cream, other desserts, candy, beverages, and all other foods that come in packages, on a shelf, in a can or jar, or in the freezer.

There is, however, a new trend: real sugar in soda. It can be called classic, or original, or retro, but it doesn’t seem to be motivated by a desire to improve quality. In addition to being an effective marketing strategy, it’s practical. By 2008, the price of high-fructose corn syrup had increased to a point where it matched that of sugar.

Despite the sugar come-back, the corn-based sweetener is in so many foods that you have to make an effort to avoid it. High-fructose corn syrup isn’t likely to disappear – unless most of us stop eating it.

© HealthDay

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High-fructose corn syrup, a sweetener found in almost all types of processed foods and drinks, can have deadly consequences. By knowing what to look for, you can avoid its risks by choosing foods with healthier ingredients.
Monday, 26 April 2010 08:46 AM
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