Are carbs bad for you? No. Is High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) bad for you? Yes. The poison is in the dosage and if you walk down the aisle of your local supermarket and pick up a processed packaged food, there’s a good chance you’re going to find High Fructose Corn Syrup on the label. This is a nasty little ingredient that’s bad your health and is totally different to natural form carbohydrates.
High fructose corn syrup is a liquid sweetener made from corn starch. It’s a mixture of both glucose and fructose which both get metabolised differently in your body. If you’re struggling with losing weight, or storing body fat around your belly there’s a good chance you’re over consuming this form of sugar.
How and when did HFCS become so popular?
HFCS manufacturing was introduced in the 1950’s but didn’t take off until the 1970’s. Regular sugar was becoming more expensive for food manufacturers due to trade restrictions and at the same time there were farm subsidies to encourage farmers to produce as much corn as possible. This lead to an excess in supply of corn and also cheaper prices for corn.
Along with the advantages of using HFCS compared to normal table sugar, food manufacturers stood to save more money by switching over to using HFCS. HFCS was cheaper, is sweeter and in syrup/liquid form meaning it would be easier to manufacture into there processed foods. In the 1980’s Coca-Cola began using HFCS in it’s drinks and by the mid 1980’s so did other soft drink companies.
That’s not all.
In the midst of the 1980’s there was also the “low-fat” boom where food manufacturers were creating low-fat products with the message that it would improve our health. Improve your heart health, reduce your cholesterol, reduce the amount of saturated fat, cut down on full-fat dairy and meats.
What the food companies discovered though was that when you removed the fat from food, it tasted like shit, like cardboard. So to improve the taste, texture and palatableness of the food, manufacturers had to introduce something to make it sweet and improve it’s shelf life. What would be more perfect than HFCS? It was sweeter than regular sugar, it was cheaper and they could still market their foods as healthy because it was low-fat.
There are 3 types of HFCS.
HFCS-55 which is mainly used soft drinks, energy drinks and fruit drinks. It contains 55% fructose and 45% glucose.
HFCS-42 which is used mainly in baked goods and contains 42% fructose and 58% glucose.
HFCS-90 which is 90% fructose and 10% glucose which is mainly used in confectionery and dessert syrups.
The problem lies in how HFCS is metabolised.
There’s a difference in how your body metabolises both glucose and HFCS. Glucose is found in starch such as potatoes, rice, plants and vegetables. It breaks itself down into fuel that the body can use.
Glucose > Muscle Cells > Liver Cells > Fat Cells
When you eat say a potato, it breaks down into glucose which raises your blood sugar. Insulin gets released from your pancreas to drive the glucose into your muscle cells where it will be stored as energy, then your liver cells, than your fat cells. Every cell in your body knows how to utilise glycogen. It’s a readily available source of energy.
When you drink a soft drink however which contains HFCS it gets metabolised differently.
Fructose > Liver Cells > Fat Cells
Fructose doesn’t get metabolised by your muscle cells. Instead only your liver can metabolise fructose and if you’re having a lot of fructose that’s a lot of work for your liver to be metabolising. As your liver cells can only metabolise and store so much fructose so it drives the remainder of the fructose into the fat cells.
And that’s the problem.
So if you’re having a form fructose day in day out at each and every meal. It’s the dosage that make the poison and it’s this that leads to stubborn visceral fat, obesity and type 2 diabetes.
The negative feedback loop. Why fructose consumption can lead to overeating.
Not all carbs and sugars are created equal and when you eat a form of glucose it raises insulin to drive those nutrients into your muscle cells and also suppresses your hunger hormone ghrelin and stimulates leptin which signals to your brain that you’re full.
Fructose doesn’t need insulin because it gets metabolised mainly in the liver so it has no effect on ghrelin and leptin. So even though your liver is metabolising fructose and turning it into fat, your brain isn’t receiving the signal that you’re eating and that you’re full. It’s a negative feedback loop which leads to more eating and more fat storing.
There’s fructose in fruit. Does that mean fruit is bad for you?
No, fruit isn’t bad for you. The difference between real fruit and HFCS is real fruit has fiber.
If you were to eat a real apple, you not only get the fructose from the apple which would be minimal, but you also get the nutrients from the apple and the fiber which keep you full. A healthy dose of energy, nutrients all the while keeping your blood sugar levels stable.
In comparison to an apple juice, that’s the equivalent of the fructose of 5 apples without the fiber and that makes a big difference.
Exercise and weight train to improve insulin sensitivity.
Get rid of all liquid sugared drinks.
Eat carbohydrates containing both glucose and fiber.
Read the back of food labels and be consciously aware of foods containing High Fructose Corn Syrup.
Everything is in context.
Have you seen how many carbs elite athletes such as AFL players eat? Heaps and they’re still able to maintain a healthy level of body composition. They carb load before a match and they also re-feed after a match and I’m guessing on training days as well.
Their bodies are utilising the glycogen stored within their muscles and their body. To replenish it they need to eat a lot more carbohydrates than say a person who is just sitting around at home watching TV. The healthier and more active you are, the more insulin sensitive you’ll be and the more carbs your body will naturally need.
To drive this point home. Gatorade and Powerade, two sports drinks that contain both glycogen and fructose. It makes sense for a sports drink to contain both glycogen and fructose, fructose helps to shuttle glycogen into the muscle cells faster. That’s what you want when you’re training balls to the wall and for an athlete this is awesome but who else is drinking these drinks? Kids.. who aren’t elite athletes. They’ll drink it because it’s what their heroes are drinking and that’s the same for Nutri-Grain and every other energising marketed cereal or sports drink.
McDonalds only has 7 products that don’t contain HFCS or sucrose (table sugar — a mixture of glucose and fructose): Fries, hash browns, nuggets, sausage, diet Coke, Coffee and tea.
If you’re going to eat something sweet. Make it at home or have a raw option which doesn’t include refined sugars.