Image by: Steve Rainwater
By Harper Finch
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is America’s most controversial sweetener. It is commonly used in the food and beverage industry because fructose is sweeter than sucrose, or table sugar. The battle of the sweeteners has raged on for decades and you may have a side, or you may not. Either way, it is important to know the difference between the two and if one is really worse for you than the other.
Let’s talk about the differences between table sugar and HFCS and ways that you can eliminate them both from your diet.
High Fructose Corn Syrup Vs. Sugar
High fructose corn syrup is a manmade sweetener that is found in a wide range of processed foods, including nearly all of the soda you find on the shelves (except the newer “throwback” sodas, which use real sugar). It is the most common sweetener in the country because it is much cheaper to produce than sugar.
HFCS has gotten a bad reputation over the years as a leading cause of obesity, because, after HFCS began to be added to our food supply over 30 years ago, obesity rates soared. Many mistook this correlation for causation, but research is inconclusive and many of the experts now realize that all forms of sugar are to blame.
Chemically, HFCS is very similar to table sugar. It is typically between 42-55% fructose, and the rest glucose. Sugar is naturally 50% of each. And metabolic studies show that our bodies break down and use HFCS and sucrose the same way. When it comes down to it, a sugar is a sugar. From a biochemical standpoint, all sugars, including fruit juice, brown sugar, honey, and HFCS, are all the same.
So What Should You Do?
What all the research shows in the great sugar debate is that, as far as diet goes, sugar and high fructose corn syrup are both bad for you. The best thing you can do is avoid added sugars altogether, regardless of their source.
Note: I won’t be discussing the impact of genetically-modified corn used to make HFCS, which tends to be a major component of the debate. If this is a concern for you, check out this list of non-GMO companies.
Now, let’s discuss ways to reduce your sugar intake:
#1) Keep Your Beverages Natural
The first thing you should do is eliminate soda from your diet. A can of soda contains around 41 grams of sugar, mostly from HFCS. Diet sodas don’t usually have the sweetener, but artificial sweeteners are also bad for your health. Lattes and other fancy coffee drinks are also loaded with nearly as much sugar as a soda.
Instead of a sweetened latte, stick to water, coffee, or tea. According to health care professionals at St. John Health System, drinking sugar-free, caffeine-free beverages such as water or non-caffeinated tea or soft drinks can even help reduce blood sugar levels.
#2) Watch Your Carb Sources
High fructose corn syrup and large amounts of sugar can be present even in foods that are not particularly sweet, such as breads, cereals, and even some oatmeals.
Ready to eat cereals, cereal bars and instant oatmeal packets are loaded with sugar. Just because cereals say they are whole-grain, many people assume that means they have less sugar. Even some cereals that are labeled “natural,” can have up to 50% sugar. So watch your labels.
Whole grains rate substantially lower on the glycemic index (meaning that it has a lower impact on your blood sugar levels) than white-flour carbohydrates, such as white bread, pasta, cereals and instant rice. Replace simple carbohydrates with whole grain varieties.
#3) Stick to Fresh Fruit
If you are not a big fruit eater and you prefer to get your daily servings from sources other than whole fruits, let me show you why you should stop.
Many commercials and advertisements would have you believe that you can drink your fruit in the form of fruit juices. It makes sense that a juiced fruit should have the same nutritional value as a whole piece of fruit, right? Not necessarily. A Harvard study found that people who ate more whole fruits had a lower risk of diabetes and people who drank more fruit juice had a higher risk. This is possibly because fruit juice has a higher glycemic index and a lower fiber count than whole fruits, so it passes through the digestive system more quickly, especially if has added refined sugar.
Many fruit leather strips can be up to 50% added sugar, canned fruit that is packaged in heavy syrup can be up to 22% sugar, and juice-packed fruit can be up to 14% sugar.
So what does all this mean? Stick to fresh fruit. Whole fruits have a natural capacity to help balance blood sugar levels better than any other source.