Chances are you’ve heard of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and have maybe even seen it on nutrition labels for various candies or sodas, but not everyone has a firm grasp of exactly what it is, where it lurks, and why the consensus seems to be to avoid it if and when you can.
With that in mind, we’ve put together a guide to HFCS that is designed to tell you all you need to know about the engineered substance sweetening everything from tomato sauce to Advil tablets. Keep reading for an HFCS education, and check out 40 Bad Habits That Lead to a Fat Belly to learn about how sugar might be plumping up your midsection.
What Is It?
As you may have guessed, high-fructose corn syrup is a type of sugar that doesn’t exist in nature. Instead, it’s a combination of corn syrup (which itself is 100 percent glucose) and pure fructose manufacturers add to literally sweeten the deal. On its own, fructose is problematic for the body because it is metabolized only by the liver and stored as fat. And when it’s combined with corn syrup to create a 55:45 fructose to glucose mix, you have a Frankenstein-esque nutritional nightmare on your hands.
Where Is It?
While you can expect to find HFCS in desserts and sugary drinks, the sweet substance also makes an appearance in food items you might not have expected, such as salad dressings, yogurts, and even bread. In fact, HFCS is so prevalent that in 2016, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated the average American consumed approximately seven teaspoons of it per day, which adds up to about 24 pounds per year.
What Does It Do To Your Body?
We’ve established that HFCS is damagingly sweet, but what exactly does that mean for your body and overall health? In short, it’s not good.
There have been studies done linking HFCS to a rise in bad cholesterol, diabetes, and a whole host of other ailments, but we want to focus on how it negatively impacts your weight, because weight gain and obesity may lead to a myriad of health problems that can affect every part of your body. According to Princeton University researchers, HFCS has a unique and troubling impact on weight. In an animal study, 100 percent of the rats who consumed the HFCS became obese, a result not seen in other diet experiments. In other words, even in studies where animals were fed high-fat diets, obesity was not as prevalent. The study also found that rats who consumed other forms of sugar gained less weight than those who were fed HFCS, even when their overall caloric intake was the same.
And if that’s not enough to turn you off of HFCS, consider the fact that scientists also believe the sugary freakshow may age your brain. Researchers at UCLA found that ingesting foods and drinks containing fructose, a component of HFCS, for just a few weeks caused troubling changes in brain function. In an experiment with two groups of rats who had all trained to navigate a maze, one faction was given fructose in water, while the other group was treated to doses of brain-protecting omega-3 fatty acids in addition to the fructose in water concoction.
After eating the sweetener for six weeks, researchers found the rats who didn’t receive the omega-3 brain protection were slower and experienced problems with brain signaling, which disrupts critical skills such as memory and thinking. Researchers also witnessed signs of insulin resistance in the group without omega-3s, which could hamper normal energy processing and impact thoughts, emotions, memory, and learning.
How Can You Avoid HFCS?
To avoid unwanted consumption of HFCS and other harmful added sugars, always check nutrition labels and look for the total amount of sugar per serving in a given item. If you want to make things even easier on yourself, look for natural, unsweetened versions of your favorite foods.
In instances where HFCS and other added sugars can’t be avoided, seek out foods with more fiber than sugar. Why? Because the satiating nutrient has been shown to counteract sugar’s harmful effects.
To make sure HFCS doesn’t wreak havoc on your body and brain, familiarize yourself with The 43 Best Foods for Fiber!