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Most people have heard of high fructose corn syrup, and most have heard it's not good for you. But can you explain exactly why it's bad? Do you know where it comes from?
Exactly what is HFCS (high-fructose corn syrup)?
It is a sweetener that comes from corn that has been refined for meal, oil, and syrup. High fructose corn syrup is used in almost every processed food on the market, and helps to preserve foods.
Doesn't sound that bad, right?
Well, on paper, it isn't that bad. It's cheaper than sugar, has about the same number of calories, and allows food to sit on the shelf for longer because it doesn't absorb moisture like real sugar.
The problem is that it is much sweeter than sugar, and has infiltrated the marketplace. It's also made from a byproduct of a whole food, and is highly refined and usually genetically modified.
High fructose corn syrup is usually the first ingredient in soft drinks and juices, which means that product has more HFCS than any other ingredient. It's also in packaged pastries, and candies, which seems logical. But did you know that many breads, sauces, cereals, condiments, and frozen dinners have HFCS too?
Many experts say that our national obesity problem can be linked to how much high fructose corn syrup we currently ingest. Also, studies show that consuming HFCS leads to diabetes and high cholesterol.
There is no definitive research yet that proves this to be the case, but there are several theories on why exactly HFCS is so bad for your body.
One theory says that fructose converts to fat easier than regular sucrose (sugar), which means there is more fat in your bloodstream.
Other theories suggest that it's just the quantity of HFCS that we consume. Considering the fact that so many foods have it in them, this is a great possibility.
The development of HFCS began in the 1970s, when the American government was trying to help farmers use their excess corn. If you track the obesity epidemic, it can be traced back to the 1970s... an odd coincidence, right?
The government still subsidizes corn farmers, so that makes it cheaper and easier to sell. There are tariffs set to make importing sugar more expensive, keeping the focus on the corn sugar we can make within the country. It seems like the government wants Americans to eat HFCS.
The Corn Refiners Assocation started a commercial attack on the public concern about the unhealthiness of HFCS in August 2008. Their defense was that HFCS is as natural as sugar and honey -even though it doesn't occur in nature- and that the body recognizes it in the same way as any other sugar. The president of the Association said that HFCS has the same number of calories and is treated by the body as the same.
Luckily, consumers have gotten smarter and hopefully realize that a commercial paid for by an association certainly is not an unbiased opinion. Keep spreading the word to your friends and family members and we can make dents in the demand for products like high fructose corn sugar.
In addition to being bad for your health, HFCS is bad for the environment. The corn used to make HFCS isn't the sweet corn you eat in the middle of summer, but field corn grown in massive fields. Those one-crop fields cause soil erosion and nutrient depletion.
Corn requires more chemicals than other crops, so tons (literally) of pesticides and fertilizers are used to alleviate potential growing problems. The more chemicals used on the plants, the greater the strain put on the environment.
Some evidence of the environmental destruction done by HFCS is in the Gulf of Mexico. The corn growing in Midwest fields leaches chemicals into the Mississippi River, and that flows all the way down to the gulf, where there is a huge dead zone. No animals or plants live in that area, and you can actually see a difference in the color of the water. There is just no oxygen in the dead zone for living beings to use to survive.
We aren't doing our bodies or our land any favors by eating this type of corn syrup, and we can make a stand against this type of destruction by simply choosing foods made without HFCS. There are plenty of other sweetener options that are much more sustainable and healthful.