Sucrose and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) are common ingredients found in many processed foods. High US import taxes on sucrose and a more shelf stable product made HFCS the frontrunner of sugar and sweetener’s used to help manufacturer’s reduce production costs. An association made by handful of researchers between the increased use of HFCS and the rise in obesity led to a nationwide trend that demonized HFCS. But is obesity a direct result of HFCS, or could it happen with any type of sweetener?
Sucrose (aka table sugar) is a byproduct of processed sugar cane and sugar beets and is similarly structured to HFCS. Sucrose is comprised of 50% glucose and 50% fructose bound together. HFCS, on the other hand, is a byproduct of processed corn and is also comprised of glucose and fructose sugars. Currently, there are 2 types of HFCS available depending on the type of food or beverage it is used in. HFCS 55 is made of 55% fructose, 42% glucose, and commonly found in sodas & juices. HFCS 42 is made of 42% fructose, 53% glucose, and commonly found in processed food. As we can see, the concentrations of the two sweeteners are comparable.
According to the American Medical Association (AMA) and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), the body still digests, absorbs, and uses glucose & fructose the same way independent of the food source. Within the small intestine, the bond between glucose and fructose is broken by the enzyme sucrase and the two parts are equally absorbed. Glucose and fructose then are used for energy in cell metabolism or to make glycogen and stored in the liver. Research has noted that only when both glucose and glycogen levels have reached capacity can fructose be converted into citrate and stored as fat. Seeing that the concentrations of sucrose and HFCS are so similar, it doesn’t matter which one you used, the result would be the same if the same amounts were eaten.
This last year, Mintel Research Consultancy conducted a US national telephone survey that asked individuals what they look for when buying food. Mintel reported that 60% of Americans are concerned with sugars and sweeteners. When asked what part of sugars brought them the most concern, only 2% expressed concern for HFCS. The majority of Americans were worried more about calories than intake of sugars. It appears the popular trend is slowing losing its flame. As a result, manufacturers are starting to reuse HFCS to help save production costs.
Within the last decade or two, the availability of added sugars and processed foods has increased ten-fold. Americans have turned to quick, easy foods to fuel their busy lives. The AND suggests we instead focus on a plant based, well balanced diet that will provide protein, fruits, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates that are necessary keep the body strong, full of energy, and at low risk of disease.
AND position paper: Use of Nutritive and Nonnutritive Sweeteners
Mintel Research Consultancy: