Monday, August 23, 2010

HFCS! iiieeeeee!!!!

I've been wondering what the deal is with health and high fructose corn syrup. Luckily, the blog Science-Based Medicine has done my homework for me.

The author relates that "a diet high in fructose has been shown to cause — or at least contribute to — hyperlipidemia, obesity, insulin resistance and cardiac disease." Cautioning that not only HFCS contains fructose, he summarizes:

"So, what are the take-home messages from all of this?

  1. HFCS 42 and HFCS 55 have essentially the same amount of fructose, as a fraction of their total sugar, as honey, sucrose (cane or beet sugar) or maple syrup/sugar (to be agonizingly precise, HFCS has slightly less, and HCFS 55 has slightly more).
  2. HFCS 42 and HFCS 55 have an equal or smaller amount of fructose, as a fraction of their total sugar, as many commonly consumed fruits.
  3. Agave syrup has higher fructose content than any type of HFCS except HFCS 90.

For people who are worried about their health or their children’s health — and who isn’t, these days — the data suggest that the best choice is to reduce intake of all sweeteners containing fructose. That includes not only the evil HFCS, but also natural cane sugar, molasses (which is just impure cane sugar), brown sugar (ditto) and honey. Even “unsweetened” (no added sugar) fruit juices need to be considered when limiting your family’s fructose intake. "

If you're interested, the author also gives a pretty cool primer on the chemistry and biology of sugars. Get your Ochem on!*

Meanwhile, at Bifurcated Carrots, Patrick offers some social critiques for us knee-jerk libertarians to keep in mind.

h/t: Biofortified

*or did you go to an "orgo" school? I'm looking at you, UD...


  1. Hmmmm. I'll still take a natural sugar over a highly synthesized/extracted one ANY DAY.

    We can argue about the health effects, but is there anyone who was alive in the 1970s who didn't think soda tasted a hell of a lot better BEFORE HFCS replaced regular sugar?

  2. Won't argue with that here!

    And any twentysomethings out there who want to know how Coke tastes with sugar instead of HFCS just needs to go to their nearest bodega - it even comes in a glass bottle.

  3. Hi,
    My google alert for HFCS picked up your post.
    I have to go to this science based medicine because what he is dishing out is quite misleading. There is a lot of difference between sucrose and HFCS if you sit down and do the math.
    Sucrose is a disaccharide composed of 50% fructose : 50% glucose.
    HFCS-55, used to sweeten all brands of national soda, is 55% fructose: 45% glucose.
    This appears to be similar to the ratio found in sucrose, until you actually calculate the ratio. 55%:45% = 55/45 = 1.22.
    This means in every American Coke there is, compared to glucose, 22% more fructose. What does this mean in everyday terms? Drinking 5 HFCS-55 Cokes = 4.25 Sucrose Cokes + 0.75
    Fructose-sweetened Coke (if it existed). That
    is a lot of extra fructose the liver is forced to metabolize. The reason why the F/G ratio is
    greater than expected is because of the %law of
    solutions. Namely, if one component increases, the other component must decrease. And the relationship of Fruc vs. Fruc/Gluc is not linear.
    A few data points:
    50:50 = 1.0
    51:49 = 1.04
    53:47 = 1.13
    55:45 = 1.22
    57:43 = 1.33
    To me this is quite worrisome. Remember that unlike sucrose, which is a disaccharide, HFCS is only a mixture. Let's say the tolerance for
    production error is 5% and instead of Cargill,
    brewing HFCS-55 they brewed 55 X 1.05 = 57.8 or
    HFCS-58. Look at the resultant ratio. 58/42 =
    1.38 or 38% more fructose than glucose.
    Big soda, Pepsi and Coke, made the switch to
    HFCS-55 in 1984 and since then we have been swimming in excess fructose. I am not surprised that we are fat and diabetic.
    And remember, the CRA designed that ratio.
    Take care,
    Cynthia Papierniak, M.S.

  4. Thanks for the input, Cynthia.

    Maybe all these health concerns will help get rid of the stupid subsidies and sugar tariffs that created HFCS in the first place.

  5. Hi Mat,
    I went to Science-based Medicine, and his
    article is quite solid. I just disagree with him on the fact that there is a metabolic difference between sucrose and HFCS-55.
    As for changing sugar tariff/corn subsidy--
    not in the forseeable future; The Corn Refiners Assoc has one of the most powerful lobbies. I believe we can
    get the HFCS-out through market forces. Some
    big corporations have responded to public pressure: Starbuck's, Snapple (they're involved in a lawsuit), Whole Foods, Arnold bread, and now Sara Lee. We have to dismantle
    the HFCS empire one brick at a time.
    Take care

  6. Matt --
    Sugar, ok. Corn Syrup, not bad. High-fructose, INSANE!

    How do scientists come up with this poison and think it's a great sugar substitute for the populace? Yeah, it's cheap...a corporate CFO's dream!

    We're the only country pratically in the world that allows it to be used in foodstuffs.

    ...I'll drink a soda in Japan (and that's where they designed it, and they won't even use it!) and Mexico, where they make it just we like used to get it as kids here in the US up until the mid-1980s, but I won't even think of it in the US now because the effects of Highfructose cornsyrup.

    I actually lost weight when I was working in South Korea in 2007 and I was drinking 'normal/traditional/non-HFCS' Coca-Cola everyday...

    Some say our obesity in this country is because we can't get away from it: check your latest ketchup bottle and see why...depressing...


  7. Cork,

    When I first read your comment about losing weight in South Korea, my first thought was "well, but all the food there is probably lower in calories..." But that pretty much proves your point!

    Subsidizing cheap calories made sense during the Great Depression, but it's definitely outlived its usefulness.

  8. I prefer the taste of Cane Sugar in most foods that I eat. HFCS is to sweet for me and corn syrup is ok. That Is just from a taste standpoint. I am too lazy at the moment to look up the "facts" on each.




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