What's Worse: Sugar or HFCS?

The HealthGal Health Guide
  • Is there a conspiracy by sugar manufacturers to vilify high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)?  Or is there something unique about the impact of HFCS on human health?   Ask some experts and they will tell you that all sweeteners are not created equal.  Ask other experts and they will tell you that “sweet is sweet,” so consumers need to control consumption of all sugars and sweeteners.  The manufacturers of sugar claim that they have support from some scientists, most notably Dr. John McElligott, to suggest that “HFCS goes to the liver and starts the process that can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease….your body does not recognize HFCS as sugar so the pancreas does not release a burst of insulin as it would with sucrose or other sugars to utilize it.”   In his words, HFCS is worse than sugar when it comes to the impact on the health of consumers.  Powerful associations of manufacturers that include Cargill, ADM, Ingredion and Tate and Lyle have come back swinging, accusing The Sugar Association of a systematic campaign that maligns HFCS without clear cut and irrefutable evidence.  Who has it right?

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    It’s important to understand the makeup of HFCS and table sugar.  HFCS55, used mostly to sweeten soft drinks, has 55% fructose and 45% glucose.  HFCS42, which is mostly used in food processing, is 42% fructose and then mostly glucose.  Ordinary table sugar is made up of 50% glucose and 50% fructose.  Certainly the sugar versus HFCS issue demands more research so that health professionals and consumers can be clear on the facts.  More importantly though is the reality that most of us are eating too many processed carbohydrates which are sources of too much processed sugar and HFCS.  We are also choosing too many foods with natural sugars as if they are healthier options.  Fruits and vegetables and whole grains are healthier options. 


    The contention of the corn refiners is that this message may be lost on the average American who may feel that HFCS is “bad for you” but as long as the products they eat have pure refined white sugar or natural sugars, then there’s no need for concern or portion control.  Even honey, agave and other natural sweeteners should not be used irreverently – they have calories and have not been proven to be inherently more healthful.  Growing waistlines and the associated health conditions that accompany excess weight should worry most American families.  Our consumption of too many calories and poor quality calories, including sugars of all kinds, unhealthy artery-clogging fats and salt, is contributing to staggering rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.  It stands to reason that we should continue to pursue the facts, regarding the actual health implications of consuming HFCS on a regular basis.  But we’re missing the real point in this discussion which is that most of what we eat on a regular basis is undercutting to our health.  We need to cut down our consumption of all sweeteners.


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    If you commit to eating more fruits and vegetables, consuming lower fat dairy products, less processed, lean meats and plant-based proteins, nuts, seeds and legumes, and including portioned amounts of minimally processed “whole grain or high fiber grain products,” you and your family members will have far less exposure to refined sugar and HFCS.  Commit to cooking most meals and you will have the opportunity to control how much sugar and salt you add to the recipe, and you can select measured portions of healthier fats like nut oils, olive and vegetable oils, mashed avocado or use a substitute like pureed fruit in baked goods.


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Published On: September 16, 2012