As someone graduating with a public health degree, I’m super passionate about my bodies health and my families health. I feel it’s my responsibility to make people aware of the facts so they can improve their health as well because the obesity epidemic continues to worsen. I despise high fructose corn syrup and have for a long time (you’ll see why). I’ve done a ton of research on this subject and I think this summarizes what I’ve learned pretty well!
For the past two decades, America has been trying to combat one of the largest epidemics: obesity. In 2016, 37% of adult in America were diagnosed as obese compared to the 1990’s when less than 10% were obese. Theories such as lack of exercise, unbalanced diets, and larger meal portions have all been labeled as the main cause of this increase of an extremely deadly disease, and though these are all factors to this epidemic, this problem is continually getting worse. So, one asks the question: in the past few decades, what has changed the most? For 20 years, obesity rates have climbed and a major cause of the recent incline is due to the widespread use of an extra sweet, fat enhancing preservative: high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). The Corn Refiners association claims this to be myth but fails to consider that high fructose corn syrup contributes to this epidemic because of the frequent use, and therefore over consumption, and the chemical makeup which makes it easier to convert to fat in the body than regular table sugar.
Too many people dismiss obesity and are unaware of the lifelong challenges it can produce which can even eventually be death. When we are young, our metabolisms are much faster than when we older. Unfortunately, eating habits are difficult to change once people grow older. According to the National Institute of Diabetes, more than 2 out of 3 adults are borderline obese and more that 1 out of 3 adults are obese. As of 2013, Obesity was voted on by the American Medical Association to be considered its own disease. One is considered overweight if they have a BMI of 25-29.9 and obese if their BMI is 30+. Of course, the BMI index is not always accurate because of things such as muscle mass, but generally, it can accurately predict excessive weight. Obesity often causes high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, osteoarthritis, cancer, and strokes just to name a few. These are extremely scary and frequent effects that we as Americans can no longer ignore (NIH).
If you look at the ingredients in almost all processed foods such as peanut butter, jam, candy, juice, and soda, one of the top three ingredients you will read is high fructose corn syrup. While researching, I was surprised at how few people were aware of this fattening ingredient in a majority of the foods they are consuming on a regular basis. This corn syrup was first developed in the late 50’s, but wasn’t used much until the last 35 years. It is not a coincidence that right when high fructose corn syrup was being added to an increasing number of foods as a form of sugar and preservative, that American weights began to rise as well. There is an article written by a known medical doctor, Mark Hyman, where he tells us that the obesity caused by HFCS will kill us. This doctor, along with many others, make the connection between obesity and the rise of HFCS consumption. Since the use of HFCS in food processing, Americans have gone from consuming “zero to over 60 pounds per person per year [of HFCS]. During that time period, obesity rates have more than tripled and diabetes incidence has increased more than seven-fold” (Hyman). As the consumption of HFCS increases, so does the percent of obese Americans. It is predicted that by 2030, about 50% of Americans will find themselves obese (Harvard). High fructose corn syrup is being added to a majority of processed foods because it is a cheap alternative to table sugar and this has dramatically caused an excessive over consumption. The argument is made that in moderation, HFCS would not have any negative effects on the body. This may be true, but because of the proliferation of use, it is becoming harder and harder to avoid HFCS in which case, many Americans ingest much more than moderation would permit.
Time magazine and Corn Refiners Associations argue that high fructose corn syrup does not cause a problem because it has natural ingredients. This is true that it has some natural ingredients, but high fructose corn syrup is significantly processed and afterwards effects the body negatively thus increasing body fat. The Corn Refiners Association who is in charge of the continual production of HFCS claims that “high fructose corn syrup is nearly identical to table sugar (sucrose), which is composed of 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose.” This is 100% false. Cane sugar is one part fructose and one part glucose where as high fructose corn syrup is two parts fructose and one part glucose. The Corn Refiners Association tries to play down this difference making it seem trivial and dismissing it. This seeming small difference makes a huge impact on the composition, structure, and effects that HFCS has on the body in comparison with normal table sugar.
When fructose is digested, it goes to the liver to be converted into carbohydrate storage, unlike glucose which can be metabolized in a wide range of places throughout the body. Unfortunately, the liver doesn’t have a large storage capacity for fructose. When comparing the two sugars, it is important to understand that fructose, “unlike glucose which is stored as glycogen, is absorbed by the gut and converted into triglycerides by the liver” which is fat to be deposited in the body (Neilson). When foods with HFCS are ingested, the amount of fructose overwhelms the liver and it cannot convert it to carbs fast enough, so it is then stored as fats. Because there a much higher ratio of fructose to glucose in HFCS, it has been seen to convert to fat at a much faster speed than regular table sugar as would be expected. One might ask, “what about fruits and vegetables that have fructose? Does that turn into fat as well?” The answer is no! This type of fructose is chemically “pure” and naturally occurring, whereas HFCS is unnaturally processed and very chemically different as explained earlier. Fructose and high fructose corn syrup cannot be confused as the same thing. HFCS is not only higher in calories, but is also found in a significantly higher amount in foods than anytime one finds natural fructose. Fructose is turned into fat only when it overwhelms the liver; there is not enough fructose in natural foods to do this (CCC).
A few years ago, a study was created by University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center to compare the speed of fat accumulation between normal glucose and fructose. For weeks, they fed group A 100% glucose, group B table sugar (50% glucose and 50% fructose) and group C 75% fructose and 25% glucose (resembling HFCS), in a breakfast drink. After a few months, their results were drastically clear that not only was HFCS made into fat at an alarming rate, but when HFCS was also eaten with processed junk food, the HFCS was increasing more likely to be stored as fat in the body and not burned off. After this study, the lead writer for UTSW’s Center for Human Nutrition, Elizabeth Parks stated “Our study shows for the first time the surprising speed with which humans make body fat from fructose.” From these results, we can see that when HFCS is eaten in large and frequent amounts, we are compromising our body’s natural ability to convert fructose to carbohydrates thus increasing fat deposits in our body.
If food processors continue to turn to this cheaper, sugar alternative, obesity rates will continue to climb throughout America. Their proliferated use in foods is greatly contributing to this dangerous epidemic war that we are losing. As a nation, we need to become more aware of the detrimental effects high fructose corn syrup can have on our bodies. I urge individuals to be more aware of this fat enhancing product and strive to take a stand against it, even just in one’s own diet. If we continue to allow high fructose corn syrup to sneak its way into our daily meals, we will find ourselves in a country where over 86% of Americans will be overweight or obese and over 51% will be obese in just 13 years (Wang). The faster we remove high fructose corn syrup from our homes, the faster we can combat nationwide obesity.
Anderson, G. Harvey. “Much Ado about High-fructose Corn Syrup in Beverages: The Meat of the Matter1,2.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. N.p., 01 Dec. 2007. Web. 09 Mar. 2017.
CCC. “Fructose.” Calorie Control Council. Calorie Control Council, 09 Aug. 2016. Web. 09 Mar. 2017.
Harvard. “Obesity Trends.” Obesity Prevention Source. The President and Fellows of Harvard College, 12 Apr. 2016. Web. 09 Mar. 2017.
Higgs, Suzanne, Michelle Lee, and Pete Clifton. “Abstract.” Preface. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior. New York: Elsevier Science., n.d. N. pag. Print.
Hyman. “5 Reasons High Fructose Corn Syrup Will Kill You.” Dr. Mark Hyman. N.p., 11 Nov. 2015. Web. 2 Mar. 2017.
Neilson. “Is Obesity A Disease?” Prevention. Rodate INC, 24 June 2013. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.
NIH. “Overweight and Obesity Statistics.” National Institutes of Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d. Web. 09 Mar. 2017.
Wang. “News.” Jonny Bowden. N.p., 10 Jan. 2011. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.
White, John S. “Straight Talk about High-fructose Corn Syrup: What It Is and What It Ain’t1,2,3,4.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. N.p., 01 Dec. 2008. Web. 09 Mar. 2017.
Youfa, May A. Beydoun, Lan Liang, Benjamin Caballero, and Shiriki K. Kumanyika. “Will All Americans Become Overweight or Obese? Estimating the Progression and Cost of the US Obesity Epidemic.” Obesity. Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 06 Sept. 2012. Web. 09 Mar. 2017. CCC.