High fructose corn syrup is that type of sugar we’re all supposed to avoid right? Well, there’s more to the story than just avoiding high fructose corn syrup. Let’s take a look at what HFCS is and how it impacts our body according to science (instead of moms/health advocates on the internet). Corn starch is made to corn syrup through acid hydrolysis (hydrochloric acid, heat, pressure). The corn syrup is then converted to high fructose corn syrup through enzymes that convert some of the glucose molecules in corn syrup to fructose molecules. HFCS is 42% or 55% fructose.
We also need to pay attention to how the body metabolizes glucose and fructose because the two go through a very different process. Glucose is taken immediately to your cells, muscles and brain for energy by its’ taxi named insulin. If there’s anything leftover it’s then taken to the liver for conversion to glycogen (sugar in storage form) or fat. In contrast, fructose is taken straight to the liver to replenish glycogen stores and make triglycerides. A very small amount of fructose is made for energy. Because fructose doesn’t use insulin, consuming fructose doesn’t cause a huge insulin release and so was theorized to prevent blood sugar spikes and crashes- hence the health craze that caused people to use fructose instead of sucrose (table sugar) to sweeten foods. However, the triglycerides that fructose makes can be problematic in a different way than glucose. Fructose is used to make triglycerides which can cause their own cascade of inflammation leading to chronic diseases.
Just to confuse matters a bit, which is what caused people started to avidly avoid HFCS, some studies say HFCS can contribute to increased body fat, NAFLD, insulin resistance and increased cardiometabolic risk. Other studies say HFCS itself doesn’t contribute very much to those unless there is a caloric excess at baseline in which one could assume these processes would be happening anyways. The FDA states there are no studies that show a difference between HFCS and other sweeteners that have the same amounts of fructose and glucose. It is believed that HFCS is more addicting than table sugar but the evidence here is also lacking. HFCS is sweeter tasting than sucrose so one could logically connect there would be more of a tendency to addiction despite inability of studies to show a statistically significant difference *in humans* between carbohydrate equivalent loads of glucose and HFCS and how they impact ghrelin, leptin and insulin. Larger human studies are needed to show truly what HFCS does to the body versus other types of sweeteners. People with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) should try to avoid anything that stresses their liver, such as fructose and HFCS.
We can safely conclude that we should be avoiding eating too many sweets, sugars and carbohydrates regardless of what type of sugar is used. Whatever sweetener used, if used sparingly, is going to be safer than using any sweetener in excess.