More bad news about High Fructose Corn Syrup

High Fructose Corn Syrup(HFCS) has been directly linked to the obesity epidemic in the US, partly because of the nature of the sweetener itself( we’ll go into that later) and partly because of its ubiquity. It is found in virtually every processed food in the supermarket, from sodas to soups(!!), from crackers and cookies to pizza. It is found in stuff you would not normally think contains sugar, and therein lies the problem.

I’ve always been leery of HFCS because it has seemed to me to be such an artificial way of making a sweetener. (A quick check of my larder revealed the presence of HFCS in just two products – Ritz crackers and saltines.)Check out this nausea-inducing article for how corn syrup is really made.

High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is produced by processing corn starch to yield glucose, and then processing the glucose to produce a high percentage of fructose. …Three different enzymes are needed to break down cornstarch.

First, cornstarch is treated with alpha-amylase to produce shorter chains of sugars called polysaccharides. Alpha-amylase is industrially produced by a bacterium, usually Bacillus sp. It is purified and then shipped to HFCS manufacturers.

Next, an enzyme called glucoamylase breaks the sugar chains down even further to yield the simple sugar glucose. Unlike alpha-amylase, glucoamylase is produced by Aspergillus, a fungus, in a fermentation vat where one would likely see little balls of Aspergillus floating on the top….

The fructose in the corn syrup is not absorbed by the body the way glucose is. Says one doctor –

Glucose causes the pancreas to release insulin which drives sugar from the bloodstream into cells. Glucose causes fat cells to release leptin that makes you feel full so you eat less. Glucose prevents the stomach from releasing ghrelin that makes you hungry. On the other hand, fructose does not cause fat cells to release leptin and does not suppress ghrelin. This means that fructose increases hunger to make you eat more. Furthermore, the liver converts fructose far more readily to a body fat called triglyceride, than it does with glucose. High triglyceride levels raise blood levels of the bad LDL cholesterol and lower blood levels of the good HDL cholesterol, which increases heart attack risk. Recent data shows that large amounts of fructose cause insulin resistance, impair glucose tolerance, produce high levels of insulin, raise triglycerides, and cause high blood pressure in animals.

To be fair, cane sugar also contains similar proportions of fructose and glucose. But the way the glucose and fructose molecules bond in regular sugar is different from that of HFCS. In the latter, the glucose and fructose molecules are unbound and they apparently create something called reactive carbonyls when they hit the bloodstream. Carbonation( in sodas) increases the creation of these reactive carbonyls.

Reactive carbonyls, which have been linked to tissue damage and complications of diabetes, are elevated in the blood of people with diabetes. A single can of soda, however, has five times that concentration of reactive carbonyls. Old-fashioned table sugar, on the other hand, has no reactive carbonyls because its fructose and glucose molecules are “bound” and therefore stable, unlike the “unbound” molecules of HFCS.

Still, most of the current research so far has shown that all processed sugar is pretty bad for you and HFCS pretty much tops the list.

Now comes the really bad news

Almost half of tested samples of commercial high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) contained mercury, which was also found in nearly a third of 55 popular brand-name food and beverage products where HFCS is the first- or second-highest labeled ingredient, according to two new U.S. studies.

Because of the complicated chemical-ridden process in which HFCS is made, there are chances of mercury contamination and the researchers in these two studies used off-the-shelf products from supermarkets as late as October 2008.

The moral of the story? Cut down on your sugar consumption in general and stay away from nasty stuff like HFCS totally. Start reading labels. Drink water, not soda or “fruit juice”.

H/T Nandini MInocha for the idea.

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