Ivan Royster is the founder of an outstanding and immensely popular Face Book page called BAN OF HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP (http://www.facebook.com/BanOfHFCS). His mission is to spread awareness about the dangers of HFCS and ultimately to get the substance banned. Ivan might be a David against the Goliath of Big Food, but his activism is paying off as we are coming to understand and appreciate that HFCS is a key contributor to many public health issues that America is facing today. If you have never visited the page, it would be well worth doing so; click the “like” button and an abundance of relevant information will appear on your news feed. The New York Times ran an article which profiled Ivan’s story: entitled: For Corn Syrup, the Sweet Talk Gets Hard, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/02/business/02syrup.html?_r=1
I recently had the opportunity of being interviewed by Ivan regarding the dangers of HFCS.
Q: What is HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup)?
A: HFCS is a gooey liquefied sweetener that is abundant in processed foods and beverages. The typical American consumes an astonishing 50-100 pounds of HFCS per year!
The derivation of HFCS: Corn is milled to cornstarch, a powdery substance that is then processed into corn syrup. Corn syrup consists primarily of glucose. Through a complex chemical process, the glucose in the corn syrup is converted to fructose. HFCS results from the mixing of this fructose back in with glucose in varying percentages to achieve the desired sweetness: 55% fructose/45% glucose ratio of HFCS is used to sweeten soft drinks; 42% fructose/58% glucose ratio of HFCS is used in baked processed foods.
Q: Why does the processed food industry adore HFCS?
A: First, it is cheaper than sugar because of huge corn subsidies and sugar tariffs. Second, the liquid syrup lends itself to ready transportation in those enormous storage vats within 18-wheelers, similar to how gasoline is hauled. Third, fructose is incredibly sweet and does not crystallize or turn grainy when cold, as sugar can do. Fourth, because HFCS is very soluble and retains moisture, it makes for softer and moister processed baked goods. Fifth, it acts as a preservative that extends the shelf life of processed foods and helps to prevent freezer burn. Finally, HFCS is a key ingredient in many processed junk foods, which are addictive and promote cravings and continued consumption.
Q: Why is HFCS so dangerous to our health?
A: There is a good reason why HFCS is so demonized: while HFCS may help “preserve” processed foods, it does not help “preserve” us! In fact, a diet high in HFCS will help accelerate our demise.
Importantly, fructose is metabolized very differently from glucose. Every cell in our bodies can metabolize glucose, but it is primarily the liver that metabolizes fructose. Fructose does not stimulate insulin release as does glucose, nor does it stimulate leptin (our satiety hormone). Fructose, more readily than glucose, replenishes liver glycogen, and once the liver is saturated with glycogen, triglycerides (fats) are made and stored. So, too much HFCS and we end up with a fatty liver…and body!
The bottom line is that HFCS ingestion pushes our metabolism towards fat production and fat storage, potentially leading to obesity, diabetes, elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. HFCS should be thought of as toxic to our health, in precisely the same way that tobacco and alcohol are.
Q: If fructose is the main sugar in fruit, how can it be bad for us since fruit is a natural product?
A: Fructose is indeed the predominant sugar in many fruits, hence the term fructose. One difference between the fructose contained within fruit as opposed to that within a bottle of soda is that fruit fructose is natural and not created in a chemistry lab. Additionally, the concentration of fructose in fruit is significantly less than that contained within the soft drink.
Let’s do the math comparing an apple to a bottle of soda: An average-sized apple has about 80 calories: 20 grams of sugar consisting of 4 grams of sucrose (equivalent to 2 grams fructose and 2 grams glucose), 5 grams of glucose, and 11 grams of fructose, for a total of 13 grams of fructose. A 20-ounce bottle of soda has about 240 calories: 60 grams of sugar all from HFCS (55% fructose / 45% glucose) for a total of about 35 grams of fructose.
Furthermore, the fructose in beverages is a source of “empty” calories—essentially liquid candy—as they do not contain health-promoting ingredients present in fruit including fiber, anti-oxidants, vitamins, minerals and other phyto-nutrients. Because of the fiber content of the apple, the sugars are slowly absorbed whereas the “naked” sugars in beverage form are rapidly absorbed, providing a “load” of fructose to the liver.
More than being just empty calories, fructose is a source of poisonous calories that promote obesity…think of fructose as fat.
Bottom line: Enjoy your apple and avoid products that contain HFCS like the plague!
Q: Is HFCS any worse for us than sugar?
A: Table sugar (sucrose) is a refined and processed product that is a 50-50 mixture of glucose and fructose; the biological effects of both sugar and HFCS are virtually identical, with both potentially harmful to our good health. The reader is referred to Dr. Lustig’s awesome lecture that can be viewed on YouTube—it just might change your life: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM
Q: How does your book, Promiscuous Eating: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food, relate to this?
A: I use the term “promiscuous” eating to mean an unhealthy relationship with food: a lack of commitment to quality foods and to eating for the right reasons, in the right quantities and in the right manner. It often entails the reckless consumption of food at unsuitable speeds, times and places, often without enjoyment of the eating process and without regard to consequence. It often leaves us feeling bloated, stressed and guilt-ridden. After a bout of promiscuous eating, we do not feel good about ourselves the next morning. Clearly, consuming HFCS is promiscuous eating…and oftentimes, when eating promiscuously, it is precisely these HFCS-containing, processed junk foods that are consumed.
Promiscuous Eating examines our relationship with food. For too many of us, this has gone awry, promoting obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Certainly, HFCS figures prominently in this relationship and our bad eating behaviors. By understanding the intricacies of our behaviors with respect to food, we are enabled to amend this relationship with the resultant change in diet and eating habits being transformative—if not life saving.
The website for the book is: www.promiscuouseating.com. It provides information on the book including a trailer; excerpts; ordering instructions; blog; and links to a wealth of excellent resources on healthy living. The FaceBook page for the book will provide a “tip of the week”: http://www.facebook.com/promisceating