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High Fructose Corn Syrup – Good or Bad?

One topic that comes up frequently at our weight loss center is High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). Patients want to know, what is it? Is it bad for me? Is it really important to eliminate it from the diet when trying to lose weight?

First let’s discuss what it is. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is one of the main sweeteners that have replaced standard table sugar in the food industry. Table sugar, also called sucrose, is made up of 2 simple sugars called glucose and fructose connected together by a bond. When we ingest sugar our bodies break it down during digestion to its individual components, one glucose molecule and one fructose molecule. The components of HFCS are also glucose and fructose just like table sugar. So what makes HFCS different? HFCS is corn syrups that has undergone an enzymatic process to replace some of its glucose molecules for fructose. This exchange increases the concentration of fructose which increases its sweetness. So what is the big deal, aren’t they essentially the same? The answer is a BIG NO!

HFCS has been modified to have more fructose molecules, it is 55% fructose and 45% glucose. Table sugar on the other hand contains 50% fructose to 50% glucose. In table sugar, all the glucose and fructose molecules are connected together via a bond, there are no free floating simple sugar molecules (glucose or fructose). HFCS, on the other hand, has a portion of its fructose molecules free in solution not connected (bonded together) to glucose and a higher concentration of fructose. Although just looking at their make up one would think that they are similar and should have the same metabolic impact, there are huge differences.

These differences significantly increase the sugar elevation after ingestion of foods containing HFCS and the insulin response (higher insulin levels) by individuals compared to the response by ingestion of table sugar.

In a study done at Princeton University on lab rats comparing consumption of sucrose (table sugar) vs. HFCS. The study showed a significant increase in weight gain experienced by the group that was given HFCS. First group – male rats feed a normal standard diet but with water sweetened with HFCS at a concentration that was half of that found in a typical soda. Second group – male rats feed a normal standard diet but with water sweetened with sucrose (table sugar) at a concentration equal to that in a typical soda. The group taking HFCS experienced MORE weight gain than the control, even though the concentration of “sugar” was half of that found in a typical soda. HFCS was also associated with increase abdominal fat, elevated triglycerides, decrease in protective good cholesterol and elevated blood sugar and insulin. All these changes have been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Some of the most successful diets today (example; Sugar Buster’s, South Beach Diet, Adkin Diet) share a common theme among them.

They call for an increase intake of good quality proteins, limit carbohydrates (especially processed carbohydrates that generally contain HFCS) and increase vegetable and fiber intake. So avoiding or limiting the intake of HFCS will help improve weight loss results, as well as, overall health. Stay tuned for my follow up article on HFCS, how to recognize and avoid it.

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