According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the average person should limit sugar intake to 25 grams of sugar per day, or about 6 teaspoons. (1) Many of us are unable to maintain this recommendation due to the sneaky ways that sugar, particularly in the form of high fructose corn syrup, makes its way into many things we tend not to think as sugary.
High fructose corn syrup has exploded in popularity in recent years, but what is good for the food industry isn’t necessarily good for the consumers. Here is a brief overview of what high fructose corn syrup is, where you can find high fructose corn syrup in products you are consuming every day, and 5 dangers of consuming high fructose corn syrup regularly.
What Is High Fructose Corn Syrup?
First introduced in the 1960s, high fructose corn syrup, or HFCS, is a cheap and sweeter alternative to the sugar found in most pantries. It wasn’t until the 1980s that HFCS become mainstream and the potential dangers of this syrup were never fully investigated. (2)
High fructose corn syrup is made through a fairly long process. After the sweet corn is harvested, it is processed into corn starch, to which a water and a specific enzyme is added to break the glucose chain down into smaller chains. Another enzyme is added to break down the glucose further, resulting in regular corn syrup. One final enzyme is added to change glucose into fructose, which results in high fructose corn syrup. (3)
8 Most Popular Foods That Contain HFCS
Since HFCS is cheaper than regular sugar, it should come as no surprise that it is hidden in many different foods, even ones that don’t even seem like they would contain any type of sugar in the first place.
It should come as no surprise that soda is full of sugars, with different types ranging, on average, between 37 grams and 45 grams per 12 ounce serving (4).
In recent years, various soda companies have released ‘throwback’ sodas containing cane sugar instead of HFCS, but almost any soda you buy from a vending machine or at a restaurant is full of HFCS.
Be aware that diet soda is sweetened with artificial sweeteners and may not be a viable alternative. It has been linked to metabolic syndrome, stroke, and dementia risk. While consumption of diet sodas is said to be safe in small amounts, you could simply avoid sodas altogether and opt for natural drinks such as detox drinks, detox smoothies, or detox waters.
2. Salad Dressing
This may come as a complete shock, as most people associate salad dressing with the savory rather than sweet. However, salad dressing can be full of high fructose corn syrup, particularly those that have a thicker, glaze-like consistency. Also, non-fat or low-fat options tend to have more sugars in place of fat, so be wary of those as they can be worse than their full-fat counterparts.
Make your own salad dressing to control the amount of sweet and salty ingredients are being added, and avoid the harsh preservatives and artificial colors that come in many store bought options. (5) Vinagrettes are great for dressing salads, not to mention lemon juice, lime juice, tomato juice, and other natural options that would work well with greens.
3. Sweetened Yogurt
Yogurt is such a wonderful snack for the calcium and protein it provides, but adding HFCS depletes many of these benefits. Always look at the nutrition label of your yogurt to make sure that the carbohydrate content is not from added sugars.
It’s normal for yogurt to have some carbohydrates, but a ratio of 16 grams of total carbohydrates of which 15 grams are added sugars, is a no go. Non-fat and low-fat options also tend to have higher sugars, so you are much better off with the full-fat yogurts when taken in moderation.
For best results, avoid store bought sweetened yogurt, and flavor plain yogurt at home with vanilla extract, honey, or fresh fruit. (6)
4. Canned Fruit
In terms of fruits and vegetables, it is important to eat fresh whenever possible, but frozen and canned fruits can be a good substitute when fruits are not in season or if you live in an area with limited access to fresh produce. If fresh fruit is not available in your area, you are better off filling your micronutrient requirements with vegetables instead.
Avoid any fruits that are canned with ‘light syrup’ or ‘corn syrup’ and check the ingredients to ensure no added HFCS. Fruit is naturally sweet- there is no reason to ruin a natural treat with unhealthy ingredients. (7)
5. Frozen Dinners
In the age of fast food and overly processed foods, it can be easy to pop in a frozen dinner for a convenient meal. However, even many of these seemingly healthy options are full of HFCS, even ones that are low calorie or are supposedly full of vegetables. (8)
Sugar acts as a preservative, and frozen dinners or frozen meals are made to last for a very long time. If you have no choice but to opt for a frozen meal, make sure the ingredients do not contain HFCS.
White bread is not only lacking fiber, but is often full of artificial preservatives, synthetic dyes, and HFCS. To get the most out your serving of bread, aim to consume whole grain bread that is low in sugar, or does not contain any added sugars. (9)
You don’t have to avoid bread altogether if you’re looking to cut out HFCS from your diet. Simply opt for low-carb, high fiber options, or look for certain types of bread such as sourdough bread, rye bread, and sprouted grain bread. These are varieties that don’t have a lot of sugar to begin with, so you are less likely to run into HFCS when purchasing these products.
5 Other Names Of HFCS
The other problem with HFCS is how sneaky it is on ingredient labels. Unless you see cane sugar or sugar beet juice on the label, you can assume that HFCS is the sweetening agent in your food. You may also see HFCS referred to as:
- Glucose Syrup
- Maize Syrup
- Corn Syrup
- Crystalline Fructose
- Corn Sugar
When it doubt, avoid foods with any unfamiliar names on the label. If you don’t know what it is or cannot pronounce it, it’s probably something that isn’t good for you anyway. A short ingredients list is always better in this case.
5 Dangers of HFCS
1. HFCS can contribute to leaky gut syndrome.
Leaky gut syndrome is a condition that is becoming more and more common in recent years. Leaky gut occurs when the walls of the intestines are very permeable, allowing toxins and fecal matter to sneak into the bloodstream, leading to various conditions including arthritis, asthma, type 1 diabetes, and eczema. (10)
Recent studies have shown that in attempts to digest HFCS, the intestines are damaged and inflamed, and over time, this results in leaky gut. (11)
2. HFCS raises bad cholesterol levels.
Millions of Americans suffer from high levels bad cholesterol, and while genetics can play a role your levels, diet is an equally important factor. Studies have shown that HFCS in particular raises levels of bad cholesterol, which can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack and stroke. (12)
3. HFCS puts unnecessary strain on the liver and contributes to fat storage.
The liver is a particularly important organ, as it is responsible for filtering out toxins from the body.
When HFCS hits the liver, the liver takes this carbohydrate and turns it into fat. When large amounts of HFCS are consumed, fat starts to build up in the liver as well.
Prior to the late 1970s and 1980s, most liver diseases were a result of excessive alcohol use, but now non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is found in up to 30% of adults in the United States. This disease can lead to high cholesterol and blood pressure, an increase in free radicals that can damage DNA, and promotes fat buildup in other areas of the body as well. (13)
4. HFCS may increase your risk of developing cancer.
Cancer is a terrifying disease, made even worse by the fact that there are so many different types and scientists are still struggling to understand the exact causes and treatments for various types. However, recent studies are suggesting that cancer cells are feeding off of sugars, particularly HFCS. Studies have also suggested that men and women who eat more sugar are at a higher risk of breast cancer, and particularly deadly pancreatic cancer may have a link to HFCS as well. (14)
If you have a family history of cancer, or believe that you are at risk for developing cancer, it’s best to stay away from HCFS at all costs.
5. HFCS causes weight gain.
In recent years, the rates of obesity in the United States have skyrocketed, and currently ¼ of US children and ⅓ of adults are classified as overweight or obese. There are a variety of different causes of obesity, but our diet plays a huge role in maintaining, or not maintaining, a healthy weight.
In particular, HFCS seems to play a huge role in excessive weight gain. A recent study by Princeton University suggests that those who have access to HFCS in their diet gain up to 50% more weight than those who have simple table sugar. More research needs to be done on why this is the case, but if you are trying to lose weight, eliminate HFCS from your diet. (15)
Another weight-related concern about HCFS is its ability to increase cravings and hunger. Constant sugar highs and crashes create a toxic cycle that can pack on the pounds if you’re not careful.
Do You Need A Sugar Detox?
Chances are, you can greatly benefit from participating in a sugar detox. Sugar is a particularly addictive substance that causes all sorts of different problems, and cutting sugar out of your diet has a variety of different benefits throughout the body. When going on a sugar detox diet, your palate will readjust, and artificially sweetened foods will seem excessive, and apples and berries will taste just like candy. (16)
Also, cutting out HCFS from your diet doesn’t mean swearing off anything sweet. Fruits and vegetables can be sweet and tasty, too. There are some naturally sweet detox drinks that you can try to sate your sweet tooth.
Many of us have a sweet tooth, and there is nothing wrong with occasionally indulging in a piece of candy or cookie. However, it is important to monitor your sugar intake in general, and with all of the consequences of eating HFCS, it is important to eat other sources of sugars.