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High Fructose Corn Syrup and Obesity Essay

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is one of the major caloric sweeteners used in the food industry today. It is a sweetener that contain fructose and all provide 4 kcal per gram (Suzan, 620). It is relatively inexpensive to produce, so the food industry sees HFCS an easy way to make products less expensive. HFCS is a kind of corn sugar; it is nearly identical to sucrose (table sugar), which is made up of 50 percent glucose and 50 percent fructose (“What”). Sucrose and HFCS contain the same amount of calories and are of equal sweetness. High fructose corn syrup is commonly used in the food supply in the United States and other countries.

It is found in many beverages, sauces, salad dressing, snack foods, meats products, breakfast cereals, canned fruits, dairy products, soups and much more (Suzen, 619). It contains several appealing properties that are irreplaceable by other sweeteners. Recently, high fructose corn syrup has been given a bad name in the press. With the increases in obesity many scientist and health professionals are trying to find a solution or cause. Some press reports “oversimplify the issues by attempting to single out specific ingredients, including high fructose corn syrup” (“High”). The press has associated HFCS with today’s increase risk of obesity.

Many consumers are now cautions of eating HFSC and are demanding for it to be removed from foods even though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “has affirmed and reaffirmed the generally recognized as safe (GRAS) status of HFCS” (Suzen, 620). Since the food industry is lead by the consumers, many food companies, such as Kraft, ConAgra and PepsiCo, are changing several of their products by replacing HFCS with normal cane sugar (“All”). However, most of what is said in the press about HFCS is simply a hypothesis, that do not have scientific proof to back it up, or is based on Ecological data.

High Fructose Corn Syrup is like any other sweetener; it is safe and nutritionally the same as table sugar and honey. It “has been weakly associated with [the] increased risk of obesity and related disease in the United States” (White, 1219). High fructose corn syrup does not contribute to the obesity problem any differently than sugar, therefore, it cannot be blamed for the increase in obesity and should not be replaced by other caloric sweeteners. Heath professionals have tried to find a reason for the increase in obesity. Many have blamed this increase on the use of high fructose corn syrup in foods.

However there is a lack of evidence for the association between obesity and HFCS. Some research is being done by researchers from Princeton University. They conducted an experiment with high fructose corn syrup on rats to evaluate if it is a cause to obesity. Miriam Bocarsly, a lead researcher at Princeton, fed rats a high HFCS diet and others a high sucrose diet. She observed an abnormal weight gain and augmented fat deposition in the rats on a HFCS rich diet which are all factors of obesity. However, there was no difference in body weight between HFCS and sucrose consuming rats.

Based on her results in the experiment, Bocarsly states that “over-consumption of HFCS could be a major factor in the “obesity epidemic” ” (Bocarsly, 5) but further research and experiments would need to be done before they would know for sure. Others are also trying to come up with similar research to support the link between HFCS and obesity. George Bray, a researcher From the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University, did research on “the relation between the intake of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and the development of obesity” (Bray, 537).

He states that along with the increase in obesity, there has been an increase in the use of HFCS in foods. However, he has not taken into account other factors that could lead to a obesity increase. Richard Forshee, a nutritional scientist from the University of Maryland, states that “obesity is influenced by many genetic and environmental contributors” (Forshee, 561), not just what we eat. Plus, all macronutrients, not just sweeteners, contain calories that contribute to weight gain when consumed in excess (Hein, 255).

Americans are also eating out of the home more and restaurant food portions have grown over the decade. The evidence that “HFCS consumption uniquely increases the risk of weight gain is very weak” (Forshee, 579). Also, the only evidence that links HFCS consumption and weight gain is ecological data. Ecological data is widely recognized as “insufficient for establishing cause-effect relationships” (Forshee, 580), so more research would need to be done before a bad label can truly be given to high fructose corn syrup.

The rise in the relationship between high fructose corn syrup and obesity is shown to be based on a hypothesis rather than scientific research. In 2004, hypothesis that HFCS is the direct cause for the rise in obesity, was published. This hypothesis was based on a “temporal relation between HFCS use and obesity rates between 1960 and 2000” (“Straight,” 1717). Through the leading nutrition journals and local newspapers, this hypothesis was written as a fact.

John S. White states that if the hypothesis was to be hold as true, several assumptions would have to be made: “HFCS and sucrose are significantly different, HFCS must be uniquely obesity-promoting, HFCS must be predictive of US obesity, HFCS must be a predictive of global obesity, [and] eliminating HFCS from the food supply must significantly reduce obesity” (“Straight,” 1717). However, each of these “assumptions’ have been proven to be false. There is research that shows that high fructose corn syrup is no different from other caloric sweeteners, such as sucrose.

Some recent studies have not found “significant differences between HFCS and sucrose on total energy intake, macronutrient intake, taste, hunger, [or] thirst” (Suzen, 623). The ratio of glucose-to-fructose in HFCS is nearly one to one; similarly to the ratio in “sucrose, invert sugar, and honey. A similar ratio is also found in many fruits and fruit juices” (“Straight,” 1717). Other studies show that high fructose corn syrup is processed by the body identically to sucrose and can not be labeled as the main source of obesity.

Suzen Moeller, a nutritionist in the American Medical Association, states that “HFCS is similar to sucrose (table sugar), which is a disaccharide composed of 50 [percent] fructose and 50 [percent] glucose” (Suzen, 621). Because of the close similarities, HFCS and sucrose are absorbed similar by the body and the free fructose and glucose molecules are absorbed regardless if they originated in sucrose or HFCS (Suzen, 621). So even if a beverage or food is sweetened with HFCS or sucrose, it will have the same affect on the body and it is “unlikely that HFCS contributes more to obesity or other conditions than sucrose does” (Suzen, 624).

Thus, there is no sufficient amount of evidence that can prove that HFCS is different than sucrose. The other part of the hypothesis, is that high fructose corn syrup is uniquely obesity-promoting. However, if this were to be true, there would have to be something in HFCS that was absent in sucrose (“Straight,” 1719). Several experiments on animal or human subjects have been done using a pure fructose containing diets. But, using only a fructose containing diet is a bad model for HFCS; HFCS contains an equivalent amount of glucose. A far better way to prove if HFCS is the unique reason to the rise in obesity would be to compare it to sucrose.

However, after some studies comparing the to sweeteners, scientists reported there to be “no significant difference between the 2 sweeteners in fasting plasma glucose, insulin, leptin, or ghrelin or in energy or micronutrient intake” (“Straight,” 1720). This data disproves the second part of the hypothesis; HFCS is not the unique reason for obesity increase. The hypothesis made also says that high fructose corn syrup has to be the result of obesity in the US. This hypothesis about HFCS only looked at the increasing obesity rates between 1960 and 2000.

When you compare the obesity rates after 2000 to the use of HFCS in foods, the rates of obesity continue to increase but the use of HFCS in foods have shown to decline (“Straight,” 1720). This data shows that the association between HFCS and obesity is not valid, which means HFCS is not the predict for obesity in the US. High fructose corn syrup is also being blamed for the global obesity increase. There is a misconception that HFCS is a dominate US sweetener and global sweetener. However, both of these are false. HFCS is used for one-half of the sweeteners in the US and only eight percent of the sweeteners used world wide (“Straight,” 1720).

Many countries have put a ban or tax the use of HFCS to protect their domestic sugar industries. In Mexico and Argentina, , two countries with the highest obesity rates, the use of HFCS in food is the lowest percentage (“Straight,” 1720). So similarly to the comparison between the obesity rates and HFCS use in the US, the global obesity problem increase while the use of HFCS decreases. The last part of the hypothesis made about high fructose corn syrup, is that eliminating HFCS from the food supply would reduce obesity. This is false, however. If one was to remove HFCS from food, HFCS would then have to be replaced by another sweeteners.

It has already been shown that HFCS is identical to the other caloric sweeteners, so if it were to be replaced by sucrose there would be “no change in caloric intake, no change in basic metabolism, and no change in rates of obesity” (“Straight,” 1720). John White concludes that replacing HFCS in foods would neither improve it nutritionally or fix the obesity problem because all fructose-containing sweeteners are “interchangeable from a compositional, nutritional and metabolic standpoint” (“Misconceptions,” 1225). So removing HFCS would be a waste of a companies money and time, for it will not help reduce the obesity increase.

The replacement of high fructose corn syrup is one of the solutions many food companies have taken to please their consumers. However, this is an unnecessary solution to the HFCS controversy. Instead of using high fructose corn syrup, companies are using sucrose since the two sweeteners are interchangeable. Since HFCS and sucrose are identical, the products sugar amounts or sweetness is not changed. However, in sensory tests consumers have shown to prefer the product with HFCS then with sucrose. HFCS is used in food products for many other reason besides to sweeten food.

It is used for its colligative properties, like its freezing point manipulation, food moisture control, bulking, crystal structure, browning and carmelization process, color, and fermentable solids (“Straight,” 1720). HFCS is very important in many products. In baked goods, HFCS helps with the fermentable sugars to yeast-raised products, gives crust the appealing brown color, reduces sugar crystallization and enhances fruit filling flavors. In yogurt, it provides the bacteria with fermentable sugars, controls the moisture and enhances flavor. In canned or frozen products, HFCS reduces freezer burn and protects the foods firm texture (“High”).

These properties are not replaced when sucrose is used instead of HFCS and customers notice and are displeased. Not only does replacing HFCS with sucrose change several important properties, but it also would cause food industries to increase the price of the food. HFCS is less expensive to produce, so it makes food products less expensive. Replacing HFCS would not change the overall taste, but it would take away needed properties and consumers would notice higher prices in foods if sucrose is substituted for the less-expensive HFCS. One of the better solutions to the high fructose corn syrup controversy is to simply change the name.

The Corn Refiners Association has been petitioning the U. S Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to change the name from high fructose corn syrup to “corn sugar” (“CRA”). Studies show that many consumers are confused be HFCS name; they believe it is “high” in fructose which is incorrect. The alternate name “corn sugar” would more closely reflects the consumers expectations. It would also be more accurate when describing the basic nature of the ingredient and its characterizing properties (“CRA”). The changing of the name to “corn sugar” tells the consumer that HFCS is simply that; sugar made from corn.

As the use of high fructose corn syrup increase so does the concern about how it effects our health. Many studies have been done with HFCS, however none are able to fully support if HFCS is the cause to our increase in obesity. The idea that HFCS has increased obesity is mostly based on a hypothesis by some nutritionist. There is research that has proven this hypothesis to be wrong; high fructose corn syrup is identical to other caloric sweeteners, it is not uniquely obesity-promoting, it is not the predictive of US obesity or global obesity, [and] eliminating HFCS from the food supply would not reduce obesity.

John S. White, a nutritionist from White Technical Research, proclaims that “[n]o one would disagree that HFCS as a caloric ingredient can lead to weight gain if products sweetened with it are consumed to excess…. [b]ut there is absolutely no proof that HFCS acts in any exclusive manner to promote obesity. It is time to retire the hypothesis that HFCS is uniquely responsible for obesity. ” (“Straight,” 1721). HFCS is simply sugar made from corn and has no unusually health effects. It should not be removed nor replaced in foods and simply changing its name and informing consumers of what HFCS truly is will have resolve the conflict.


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