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Concerned about high fructose corn syrup in your child’s diet?

November 04, 2013

Have you seen any Yoplait yogurt commercials recently? I have seen one where they are advertising that all their products are now free of high fructose corn syrup. As the advertisement goes, Yoplait has been listening to its customers who requested the change.

You may have also seen some commercials a few years ago from the Corn Refiners Association advertising high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as “the same as sugar.” One commercial had two moms discussing a beverage with HFCS that was being offered at their child’s birthday party. When one mom didn’t know why she thought HFCS was bad, the other explains how it is just like sugar and okay in moderation. The Corn Refiners Association even petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to change the name of high fructose corn syrup to “corn sugar” because of the negative response that HFCS brings. Their request was denied. 

So what is High Fructose Corn Syrup?

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is made from cornstarch, which is treated to break down the starch into glucose. The resulting corn syrup is treated again to change about half of the glucose into fructose to increase the sweetness. It was first created in the 1960s, and began to appear in foods in the 1970s. By the 1980s, HFCS was cheaper than table sugar, and replaced table sugar in many products to make up about 35% of the sweeteners used in the U.S. food supply. It can be found in sodas and other sweetened beverages, bread, cereals, condiments and many other processed foods.

What is the difference between HFCS and sugar?

Sugar, also known as sucrose, is made of fructose and glucose that are attached to each other.  As a result, sucrose is half glucose and half fructose. The fructose and glucose in HFCS are not connected in the same way, so it appears to be absorbed by the body slightly differently. Once it reaches the blood, there is about the same amount of glucose and fructose from both HFCS and sugar. When high fructose corn syrup is removed from a product like the Yoplait yogurts, sugar is added in its place. If you look at the ingredients listed on the food label, added sugars are often found as sucrose, honey, molasses, agave nectar, maple syrup, or fruit juice.

How did HFCS get such a bad rap?

Much of the bad press that HFCS has received is because researchers noticed that the rise in obesity in the United States occurred around the same time that high fructose corn syrup was added into the food supply. HFCS has been blamed, not only for the rise in obesity, but has also been linked to increasing triglyceride levels, which raises the risk of cardiovascular disease, and insulin resistance, which can lead to type 2 diabetes.

Is HFCS really that bad for you?

At this point in time, the research is very mixed on how HFCS affects us. Studies about the effect of fructose on triglyceride levels have shown that intakes of fructose near the typical amount eaten don’t significantly increase fasting triglyceride levels. However, when high levels of fructose are consumed, triglycerides can start climbing after meals. The research on whether fructose can contribute to insulin resistance remains uncertain.

Some studies have found a relationship between HFCS intake and obesity, while others have not. One study that looked at the estimated intake of dietary fructose in 1977 as compared to 2004, found that while the average intake of fructose increased by 32%, the total calorie intake also increased by 18%, about 350 calories per day. Other studies have suggested that HFCS and other added sugars have contributed to obesity by adding excess calories to our diet.

Is High Fructose Corn Syrup worse than Sugar?

Neither HFCS nor sugar is “good” for us in large amounts. They both add extra calories without adding important nutrients to our diet. The research on whether HFCS has caused the obesity epidemic has shown that HFCS has not single-handedly caused the increase in obesity over the past 40 years. However, HFCS most certainly has added to the increase in calories we consume. All other added sugars (including sucrose) have also contributed to this increase in calorie intake.

Should HFCS be avoided in a child’s diet?

All added sugars should be limited in children’s diets. HFCS finds its way into kids’ diets through soda, fruit drinks, sweet tea, as well as through many processed foods they consume daily. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children do not consume any soda, fruit drinks, or sports drinks due to the sweeteners they contain. They also recommend that children from 1-6 years old be limited to 4-6 ounces of fruit juice per day and children from 7-18 years should have no more than 8-12 ounces of fruit juice per day. Infants should not have any fruit juice.

What recommendations would you give regarding high fructose corn syrup?

Children should not drink any beverages that contain high fructose corn syrup, and all other added sugars should be limited as well. Parents need to be aware that products that claim “No high fructose corn syrup” on the packaging usually have a different source of added sugar in its place. These foods should still be limited. The best sources of dietary sugars are from whole fruits, vegetables, and milk that have fiber and other nutrients packed in with the sugar.