Food manufacturers have been going through a lot of effort lately to try to convince consumers that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) isn't bad for us. Shoppers are being assailed with a virtual onslaught of public relations campaigns and commercials telling them that HFCS is just sugar and that our bodies process it in exactly the same way. This claim couldn't be further from the truth. To understand the differences between table sugar and HFCS, it is important to start with how each sweetener is made.
Sugar beets: sugar beets are sliced into hot water to produce a sweet juice. This juice is then filtered, concentrated and boiled until it thickens. Once it is thick enough, the water is separated from the crystals of sugar, usually with a centrifuge, and then the crystals are thickened and packaged. Sugarcane: Sugarcane stalks are pulverized and water and lime are added to make a juice which is boiled until sugar crystals form. The crystals are then extracted from the syrup, again usually with a centrifuge. This resulting product is called raw sugar. It's very tasty and often sold as is, but can be refined a bit further to make white sugar which is sweeter. As we can see, both methods of producing table sugar involve simply extracting the sweet crystals from the crop. Since HFCS is made from corn, logic dictates that the extraction and production process would be much the same, but it's not.
HFCS is made by extracting the starch from corn, breaking it down into glucose using enzymes and acids and then converting about half of that glucose into fructose with another enzyme called Xylose Isomerase. Xylose Isomerase is derived from a family of bacteria known as Streptomyces rubiginosus. To make matters worse, both the corn and the bacteria that produces the enzyme are genetically modified, either to increase production or produce biochemicals that kill pests. Yum.
Aside from the purely unnatural manufacturing method and use of genetically modified crops, HFCS is processed by the body in an entirely different way. Cane sugar is made of two tightly bound carbohydrate molecules, glucose and fructose, that have to be broken down by your digestive system in order to use them. HFCS has roughly the same ratio of carbohydrates, but they are not bound together. The fructose is immediately available and rapidly absorbed into the blood, causing a “blood sugar spike.” In an effort to store this excess energy, the pancreas produces excess insulin and the liver produces fats like triglycerides to store it, usually around the waistline. Unfortunately, much of these fatty deposits end up adhering to artery and blood vessel walls as well. To make matters worse, HFCS is usually contaminated with heavy metals like mercury as a result of the manufacturing process. To be fair, any sugar that is consumed in large quantities is bad. Our bodies are not designed to handle large doses of simple carbohydrates. Our ancestors consumed only about 20 teaspoons worth of simple sugars per year if they were lucky. We now consume about 35 to 50 teaspoons per day in the form of soft drinks, sweet snacks and fruit juice.
The U.S. Population is ground zero for the HFCS invasion and the effects of this product on their population are astounding to say the least; so much so that some states are now considering warning labels for sugary drinks containing the substance. In addition, manufacturers of HFCS containing products are facing a slew of lawsuits that lambast them for claiming HFCS is natural or including it in supposedly healthy snacks. Of course the food manufacturing industry’s response to this push back is to try and change the name of the product instead of using a different one.
The onslaught of lawsuits and deservedly harsh media attacks against HFCS have lead the food industry to attempt to change the name of HFCS to “corn sugar,” as if a friendlier label could convince a sick and bloated population to continue consuming the substance. For once, America's FDA has denied these food manufacturers their avarice and told them in no uncertain terms to continue using the current name. After all, if there is nothing wrong with the substance, why would they need to change it's name? Besides, it's already hidden in many foods under other names such as glucose syrup, maize syrup (maize is corn), and in Europe under the name of glucose/fructose syrup. But a rose by any other name is still very likely to lead to diabetes when consumed in large quantities, as is demonstrated by crippled and obese consumers.
It should be simple to avoid this concoction if you don't live in America, right? Wrong. HFCS is in an extraordinary number of products, and as stated above, it's found hidden in many products under other names. One of the worst culprits in our food supply is fruit juice. Fruit juice with no added sweeteners is great for us. Fruit juice that has been pasteurized to remove all of the vital enzymes and vitamins and then sweetened with HFCS is not. In fact, this type of juice can pump blood sugar even higher than a soda because it has higher levels of freely available fructose. Our best option is to avoid this sweetener altogether. Opt instead for food that is truly natural and don't trust the labels. Look for unsweetened juices or juices that don't use HFCS or any of its pseudonyms. Most importantly, cook your own food rather than using boxed dinners or processed foods and seasonings which not only contain HFCS but also other toxic ingredients and artificial preservatives.