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High Fructose Corn Syrup and Health Concerns
High Fructose Corn Syrup is a sweetener developed in the 1980s as a replacement for sucrose as the main sweetener for many drinks, primarily soft drinks. Contrary to its name, the syrup is a mixture of fructose and glucose and not simply concentrated fructose syrup. Since its introduction it has become increasingly popular as a stable and economical sweetener for drinks and foods and has also come under criticism for being partially responsible for increased sugar consumption as well as general health concerns.
According to the Corn Refiners Association (CRA), High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is nearly identical to cane sugar and they claim it is processed and absorbed by the human body in the same way as traditional table sugar. Jennifer K. Nelson, a nutritionist with the Mayo Clinic, disagrees and points out that while it’s true that HFCS is chemically identical to sugar, there is not enough evidence to determine whether or not it is absorbed in the same way as sugar by the body. Regardless of this sticking point, she points out that the inclusion of HFCS in so many products generally increases the amount of sugar which people eat in an average day. This increase of sugar consumption – regardless of whether it is cane sugar or HFCS – can lead to health problems including diabetes and obesity.
Many of the concerns regarding HFCS revolve around studies in lab animals who received high doses of the syrup as a direct injection. These studies found the rodents were more likely to consume more food than their non-injected counterparts. However, the studies have been criticized for the high dosage of syrup given to the animals, which would have been the equivalent of a 150 pound adult consuming 660 grams of fructose, much higher than the normal amounts suggested for human consumption and even more than most estimates for the true average consumption of most adults in the United States. In order to deliver the 660 grams of fructose needed to replicate the results in the average adult, he or she would need to drink 20 bottles of soda sweetened exclusively with High Fructose Corn Syrup.
Regardless of how sugar is delivered, the key is moderation. Nutritionists across the board recommend that adults moderate their own sugar consumption and children should have their consumption moderated as well. The American Heart Association has released guidelines on how much added sugar people can include in their daily diet. Women should consume no more than 100 calories from added sugar and men should keep it under 150 calories, which measures out to roughly 6 to 9 teaspoons a day. This amount is roughly the same amount of sugar, or HFCS, found in a can of soda. For children, the guidelines suggest a consumption of no more than 3-4 teaspoons of added sugar per day, regardless of whether it comes from cane sugar or through sweeteners such as HFCS.
The real problem, so to speak, with High Fructose Corn Syrup is not in its composition, but in its concentration and high dosages found in many foods and drinks. Although evidence does not suggest it is inherently better or worse than other sugars in terms of health, it is used in higher dosages which can lead to health problems as well as generally increased weight. Avoiding foods and drinks which list High Fructose Corn Syrup or other sugar sweeteners high on their list of ingredients can help promote general health.