The Corn Refiner’s Association of America has been running a lot of commercials lately stating that high fructose corn syrup is just like every other type of sugar and that it doesn’t have the negative effects on health that it gets a wrap for. This, my friends, is a bold faced lie!
As some of you know, I am currently pursuing a graduate degree in Nutrition and we have spent a significant amount of time on how different carbohydrates are metabolized by the body. Fortunately for you, but unfortunately for the corn refiners, this past unit was spent talking about fructose and how it is metabolized. One resounding theme became very apparent from studying this material, NOT ALL SUGAR IS CREATED EQUAL!
To clear things up a bit, let’s talk about the different sugars. There are three well known types of monosaccharides (the smallest sugar units or carbohydrates) and they are glucose, fructose and galactose. These sugars combine to create all the bigger carbohydrates such as starch (plant storage carbohydrates) and glycogen (animal storage carbohydrates). Dietary Fiber is comprised a little differently, but thats another post. Moving on!
Where does high fructose corn syrup fit into this scheme? Well, naturally, it doesn’t. HFCS is the result of an incomplete conversion of corn dextrose to fructose. The result is a mixture of about 50% glucose and 50% fructose, give or take a few percentage points. It is a processed food product created by men because it is cheap and it makes food taste really good. The problem is it plays a nasty game with your metabolism.
So, what happens when you eat HFCS? Fructose and glucose are both absorbed in the small intestine, but by different mechanisms. However, since they are combined in this product the absorption of fructose is higher. This causes your insulin levels (the hormone that helps you metabolize sugar, among other nutrients) to elevate significantly higher and for significantly longer than just ingesting glucose alone. This contributes to insulin resistance, which leads to type 2 diabetes.
Wait, there’s more. Since your liver (where glucose and fructose are processed) doesn’t really know what to do with all this extra fructose it stores some and turns the rest into Free Fatty Acids and Very Low Density Lipoprotiens (really bad cholestrol). The liver then releases the VLDL into systemic circulation where it is stored in tissues, causing further insulin resistance. On top of this, your ability to oxidize (use as energy) fat is compromised because your insulin levels are so high. Insulin also serves as an inhibitor of fat oxidation. To recap, the HFCS causes your body to produce more fat and bad cholesterol while inhibiting the body’s ability to use the fat that was just created as energy, while also making you more and more insulin resistant which will keep the cycle going.
I’ve got good news, though. This will result in hypertension! Wait, that’s bad news. Due to all the oxidative stress your body is put under, the cells that typically relax your smooth muscle around your veins and arteries are in inhibited. This leads to high blood pressure, or hypertension. But that’s no big deal, right? Especially not with all the extra fat your body would be carrying around.
Now you know what to say the next time you hear, “what’s so bad about high fructose corn syrup?”
Please, just stop eating this garbage!
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