High-fructose corn syrup is used in a large number of processed foods, as it is less expensive than sugar, and it helps enhance the flavor of the product besides adding volume to it. But its excessive consumption has been suspected to give rise to certain health problems, which are discussed in this article.
Corn syrup is a product of cornstarch, which is converted to a syrup with the help of several enzymes. Corn syrup is widely used in the manufacturing of processed food as a less expensive substitute of sugar, and also as a preservative.
High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) on the other hand, is a corn syrup prepared by converting its glucose content to fructose with the help of enzymatic processes. It has become a popular ingredient in a great number of processed food, such as bread, breakfast cereals, soft drinks, candies, yogurt, and frozen food.
The Manufacturing Process
It is prepared from cornstarch. Cornstarch is processed to yield corn syrup, which is then treated with several enzymes, in order to covert glucose to fructose. The process of manufacturing this syrup was developed way back in 1957. Soon, it replaced the ordinary sugar in processed food and soft drinks, as a less expensive and more convenient sugar substitute.
The enzymes that are primarily used in the manufacturing process are, alpha-amylase, glucoamylase, and glucose-isomerase. The enzyme alpha amylase is industrially produced with the help of the bacteria of the genus, Bacillus, while glucoamylase is synthesized with the help of the fungus Aspergillus. Glucose-isomerase or xylose-isomerase on the other hand, is relatively more expensive than the other two enzymes.
All these enzymes gradually convert the major part of the sugar or glucose present in cornstarch to fructose. There can be several varieties of high-fructose corn syrup, depending on its fructose and glucose content. However, the most commonly used varieties contain about 42 to 55% fructose, while the remaining content is basically glucose.
Possible Health Risks
So far, several research and studies have been conducted to evaluate the health risks associated with this sweetener. But the findings of such studies have been quite conflicting in nature. A correlation between the increased consumption of food and beverages that contain this sweetener and obesity has been pointed out by some studies. But according to the American Dietetic Association (ADA), HFCS is nutritionally equivalent to sucrose. Once absorbed into the blood stream, the two sweeteners have the same effect on the metabolic activities.
Moreover, HFCS and sugar contain the same amount calories, i.e., 4 gm. Thus, it is highly unlikely that HFCS can contribute more to obesity than sucrose or sugar. An interesting fact about HFCS is that it does not stimulate the production of insulin. Insulin is known to produce the feeling of fullness or satiation. When we do not feel satiated, we tend to eat more, which in turn can lead to obesity. However, credible research have demonstrated that HFCS affects appetite the same way as sugar. A study by Pablo Monsivais, et al., at the University of Washington found that beverages sweetened with sugar and HFCS, as well as 1% milk, have similar effects on satiety.
HFCS is largely promoted as a natural product by its manufacturers. But, critics have questioned this on the basis that this sweetener is treated with an artificial agent, called glutaraldehyde. However, this agent meet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) requirements for the use of the term “natural”. Moreover, HFCS does not contain any artificial or synthetic ingredient or color additive.
HFCS is also suspected to increase the levels of triglycerides and cholesterol, and reduce the level of chromium in the body. However, these conditions are the result of our overall lifestyle, diet, the amount of physical activity, and genetics. Moreover, sugar also has the same metabolic effects on the body, and therefore, both the sweeteners should be consumed in moderation. So, it is not clear whether HFCS can be held responsible for causing these conditions.
Though the results of the studies conducted to determine the health risks associated with HFCS are not very conclusive, it is better to use this product in moderation, as an excessive consumption of any kind added sugar is not good for our health. Similarly, the consumption of processed food and beverages, especially soft drinks and soda, should be kept in moderation. Likewise, it is always better to opt for the fresh fruits, instead of fruit juices laden with added sugar and sweeteners.