If you took part in the soft drink industry pre-1977, you probably remember pull-tabs, awesome Coke ads, and that beautiful, sugar flavor. You see, back in the good old days soft-drink manufacturers sweetened their beverages with pure beet and cane sugar. Coke and Pepsi may have contained their share of additives, but as far as sweetness was concerned they were all natural.
In 1977, however, a string of sugar tariffs and quotas drove US prices to new highs. Soft drink giants Coca-Cola and Pepsi Co. saw profits slide as the cost of sugar ate into their margins. Naturally, the companies turned their attention toward cheaper alternatives, which they found in the form of high-fructose corn syrup. The sweetener, a simple alteration to regular corn syrup, provides almost identical taste for a fraction of the cost. The rest of the food industry soon caught on, and high-fructose corn syrup has become a staple on supermarket shelves.
High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is made by converting some of the glucose in corn syrup into fructose, a similar, larger sugar molecule. This gives the syrup its sweetness. In addition to costing less than beet and cane sugar, HFCS is liquid and, therefore, easy to ship and blend. Since its introduction in US products, obesity rates have soared, and diabetes is also on the rise. Other modern-day health concerns include cardiovascular disease and metabolic disease. As many people note, HFCS consumption must be related.
Except not exactly. While doing some research last week, I was surprised to learn there is insufficient evidence linking HFCS to these diseases. Though obesity, type-II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic disease have all been connected to excessive sugar consumption, no study has conclusively singled out HFCS from other sugars. In fact, health groups such as the US Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services and the Mayo Clinic recommend people reduce sugar consumption, while the latter specifically mentions HFCS has not been proven more or less harmful than other sweeteners. The American Medical Association describes the suggestion that it is worse than other sugars as “unlikely.”
Even so, some studies claim HFCS may interfere with feelings of satiety. The question arises from how the body breaks down fructose as opposed to glucose. While nearly identical, the processes lead to slightly different levels of leptin and insulin, both of which increase satiety. This may be a fantastic side effect for food companies (and a terrible one for consumers), but other studies have found no such effect.
HFCS still has a bad reputation among consumers. A quick Google search reveals countless articles against it and campaigns to ban its use. This may have to do with the rises in obesity, diabetes, and other sugar-related health problems since its incorporation in the American diet. In recent years the food industry has begun to shift back towards beet and cane sugar, though HFCS still dominates the shelves. Many soft drink aficionados prefer the taste of pure sugar, and a more health conscious public might be shifting demand away from synthetic beverages. Perhaps the new year will introduce more products based on traditional sugars.
So what’s my take on HFCS? I’m still surprised the data is so inconclusive. Like many others, I was under the impression HFCS is decidedly worse than other sugars. I think it’s best to avoid excess sugar, and to be honest I prefer the taste of beet and cane sugar in my food. I gave up drinking soda a long time ago, and I always look at the ingredients before eating something. From now on I’ll be less suspicious of HFCS, but I’ll try to stick with what I know and like.
At least that’s my opinion. What about yours? Are you also surprised the data is so inconclusive? Are you a fan or opponent of HFCS? Share your thoughts below. As always, please like, share, or reblog this post if you enjoy it. That small click really helps me out! Be sure to check me out on Twitter and Facebook as well. Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to subscribe for new content every Wednesday! IT’S FREE!
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Comment question of the week
Do you eat high-fructose corn syrup? Is the truth surprising?