“Want a bite?” The beautiful young girl smiles at her boyfriend as she pulls a frozen pop out of the picnic basket.
“I thought you loved me.”
“I do. So take two bites.”
“It’s got high fructose corn syrup in it.”
“You know what they say… that… it’s… it… uhhhhh…” He goes silent.
“What? That it’s made from corn? That it has the same number of calories as sugar? Honey… it’s fine in moderation.”
The boyfriend smiles with relief and takes the popsicle. “You only brought one?”
Cue the happy music and the choir singing in the background.
The people who make high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) haven’t let up in their TV advertising. They’re still out there claiming their chemically produced concoction is the same as natural sugar.
The corn it’s made from isn’t even “natural” any more. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 86% of all corn grown in America is genetically engineered.1
The enzymes needed to make the high fructose corn syrup are also genetically modified. And this enzyme application is an extra processing step that even refined sugar doesn’t go through.
Another extra step used to make high fructose corn syrup is to use caustic soda in the processing. Problem is, this stuff can get contaminated with mercury.
In one study, half of the HFCS samples tested had mercury. Mercury was also found in a third of the off-the-shelf commercial foods where HFCS is the first or second labeled ingredient.2
And it’s not just how it’s processed or where it comes from. It’s what your body does with it after you eat or drink HFCS.
Natural fructose occurs in the fiber of fruit. Because it’s locked in the fiber, it normally absorbs into your bloodstream slowly, giving your liver time to release it gradually as glucose, the sugar your body uses for energy.
HFCS literally floods your bloodstream, overwhelming your liver’s processing capacity. This can lead to liver damage not unlike the kind that afflicts alcoholics. Animals given a diet high in HFCS suffer severe cirrhosis of the liver—scarring, dead tissue, and poor liver function. Their livers look a lot like those of hardcore alcoholics.
And your pancreas – the organ that produces insulin – really isn’t designed to handle high doses of concentrated fructose.
In one study, researchers bathed human pancreatic cancer cells in both fructose and glucose. Fructose worked just as well to make cancer cells spread quickly. Not only that, but fructose triggered the expression of a certain enzyme that made both sugar sources more readily available to the cancer cells.
Other research has suggested that dietary fructose may also boost your risk of developing pancreatic cancer in addition to feeding it. One study found that people with pancreatic cancer had 2.5 times more fructose in their blood than people without it.
And now there’s a brand new study showing that concentrated fructose like HFCS can even affect babies in the womb.
In an animal study done in New Zealand, researchers fed pregnant mothers high levels of fructose to see how their babies would develop. The mothers got overweight, and were producing too much insulin.
The female babies from the fructose-fed mothers were well on their way to being diabetic. They all produced too little insulin, and had high blood sugar.
The male babies also suffered from producing too little insulin. But they had an additional problem. They had high levels of BHB (beta-hydroxybutyrate). This is a chemical your body produces for energy in your brain when you can’t process sugar the right way. You make it when your brain is starving.
Besides brain starvation and diabetes, there are other effects you suffer from HFCS. That’s because the corn used to make the sweetener might be genetically modified.
Fructose is also known to break down ATP, the molecule that gives you energy. In fact, when they want to test nutrients that will give you more energy, they use concentrated fructose like HFCS to first degrade your ATP stores.3
Unfortunately, because it’s so cheap to produce and easy to add to foods, HFCS is showing up in foods you might not imagine needed to be sweetened. Stove Top stuffing, Starbuck’s frappuccinos, cough syrup, cottage cheese, baked beans… the list goes on.
Chemically produced corn syrup is one of the best arguments I can think of for eating foods the way they occur naturally – or as close as you can get these days.
Anything with cane sugar is going to be better than something with HFCS. Your body is made to be able to handle foods with natural sugar. Just help your body out by choosing foods that, if they have sugar, are low on the glycemic index (GI). You can use my glycemic index chart here.
What’s a healthy GI number? Many raw foods, including greens, meat and nuts have a GI of zero, which is great to shoot for. But try not to eat foods with a GI of more than 50.
1 Economic Research Service. “Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S.: Corn Varieties.” USDA 2010 www.ers.usda.gov.
2 Dufault R, LeBlanc B, Schnoll R, Cornett C, Schweitzer L, Wallinga D, Hightower J, Patrick L, Lukiw WJ. “Mercury from chlor-alkali plants: measured concentrations in food product sugar. Environ Health. 2009 Jan 26;8:2.
3 Lestan B, Walden K, Schmaltz S, Spychala J, Fox IH. “Beta-Hydroxybutyrate decreases adenosine triphosphate degradation products in human subjects.” J Lab Clin Med. 1994 Aug;124(2):199-209.