The 1970s brought us things like the skateboard, disco dancing and the beginning of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in just about every type of food production. By the 1980s soda drinks such as the highly recognized Coke products were using HFCS. I refer to HFCS as your brain’s supplier. Stay with me until the end of this post to explain.
I was a chubby kid. Of course, I didn’t know I was chubby when I was in grade school. It didn’t help that my mother was the best cookie maker around, and that she made cookies for everyone we knew at Christmas time. I remember one Christmas break when I was in about the 6th grade, I probably gained 10 pounds over a 2-week period! That’s about the time I started to become conscious of my weight, or my over weight, I guess I should say.
I was in middle school and high school in the ’80s. How about the wonky TV shows back in the day? If your’re old enough to remember some of those TV shows leave me a comment on which was your favorite!
Let’s look at the past for a brief history lesson.
High Fructose Corn Syrup – Not your Mama’s Sugar
High fructose corn syrup is obviously made from corn. It’s productivity became more popular when the U.S. Government started to subsidize farmers. This subsidy resulted in falling corn prices, thus an overabundance of corn and low demand. Farmers had to figure out what to do with their excess corn that nobody wanted, so they turned to providing their corn to make products like ethanol and HFCS.
Because it was a cheaper alternative and sweeter than sugar, food producing companies started to phase out sugar substituting it with HFCS for sweetener. So the sugar (sucrose) your mama used, became the sugar of old. And ta da we have new and improved sweeter tasting product, HFCS! New and improved, ummmmm not so much.
One problem with HFCS is that it consists of more fructose than glucose. Wait? Isn’t fructose found in fruit and good for you? Well yes, fructose is in fruit, and so are nutrients and fiber. I’m pretty sure fake fructose doesn’t have nutrients or fiber. And the problem isn’t eating fructose, but eating LARGE quantities of it. So why then has it been used in so many foods – some that you wouldn’t think need a sweetener?
Well, let me tell you why fake fructose is used in almost everything! Not only is it a sweetener, but it is also a preservative. So guess what? Yep that’s why it was added to foods that don’t need to be sweet such a meats and salad dressings. It’s a super cheap preservative! Don’t you think if mother nature intended us to eat more fructose, it would be found naturally in many more foods?
Cheap + Sweet + Preservative + Replace Sugar and Save Money = LARGE QUANTITIES available for CONSUMPTION !
Poverty and Obesity – The Logic
Fructose is digested differently than sucrose. Sucrose is taken into the body in the intestines. However, fructose, both the natural and artificial, must be digested by the liver. There is a liver enzyme needed to break apart fructose. The problem is fructose digestion creates fat is a process called lipogenesis.
Logically than, if the liver processes large quantities of fructose which results in large quantities of fat production and health issues around the corner. An article from Harvard Health goes on to state that this fat can build up in the liver cells causing a non-alcoholic fatty liver.
Additionally, medical research has shown fructose build up in the liver is related to: elevated triglycerides, increased harmful LDL (bad cholesterol), increased blood pressure and promotes insulin-resistant tissues which is a precursor to diabetes.
Okay let’s put the pieces together now. High fructose corn syrup is cheaper than sugar. Food producers start to replace sugar with it in large part because of cost. It is used as a sweetener and preservative, so it is added to a lot of food. Since HFCS is used abundantly in our food, the liver is processing large quantities of it creating fat. Fat overabundance we know is related to negative health issues.
Where does poverty and obesity fit it? A study from the University of Tennessee found a direct link between poor people and obesity. The study states that exactly one generation following peak HFCS use is followed by a period of peak obesity. HFCS is used in processed foods which the low income had little choice but to eat because they can’t afford better quality food. Read more about the study the University of Tennessee completed here.
By now, you should be shaking your head in disbelief. But I’m not done! Think liver producing fat from fructose is bad – read on you’re not going to believe it!
More research conducted by Yale School of Medicine reports that the brain is affected by fructose and glucose differently. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the brain was studied on healthy, non-obese participants to indicate the changes in the brain’s blood flow after ingesting glucose and fructose. The results indicated the participants who consumed glucose had reduced blood flow and activity in regions that control appetite and increased the feeling of being full. Fructose did NOT.
Ingesting fructose did not allow the brain to recognize the full feeling and possibly promoted more food intake causing food seeking behavior. So here is an example situation. I completely made this up to make the point. You have a glass of soda that contains HFCS. You become hungry, so eat a combo meal at a fast food joint. The burger, bun and drink all contain more HFCS as a sweetener and preservative. After you arrive home you feel like your not quite full from your meal so you seek a snack. The snack is sweetened with HFCS and makes you thirsty, so you drink more with yep – HFCS. After snacking you’re still not satisfied so you’re searching for more to eat….and so on and so on and so on. Get the point? This is your brain on fructose:
Coke and Pepsi – The Update
In 1984 Coke and Pepsi announced they would replace sugar with high fructose corn syrup in their drinks. To this day they use HFCS as their sweetener of choice, except in certain countries. They have no plans to switch back to sucrose. Unless they’re producing or selling their products in a country that prohibits or controls the amount of HFCS that can be used.
I visited the website of the Coca Cola company and under their FAQs they do address high fructose corn syrup; however, they only discuss the calories between corn syrup and sugar, and not any health related information as discussed above. They do link to the FDA’s website where high fructose corn syrup is listed on the “generally” safe list. Okay, so why do other countries not permit it or limit the use of HFCS?
Now when I searched the Pepsi company’s website for HFCS I could not even find the topic addressed and/or defended. The only thing I found on the site about this topic was information about some Quaker bars that did not contain it. That’s it. I am going to keep searching and will update this post if I find more information about it.
HFCS is artificially made and has more fructose than sucrose. Fructose is processed in the liver and can or may create fat which stay in the liver cells. This potentially could cause a fatty liver and that further leads to potentially more health problems. Food producers have switched from sugar to using HFCS because as a sweetener because it’s cheaper and the FDA states it’s “generally” safe.
All of this information seems to be ignoring the studies conducted about how it may not be so safe. Or does FDA define “generally” safe as “if used in moderation?”
Remember, too much sucrose (sugar) is not good for you either! But based on research HFCS and negative effects on the liver when it’s metabolized and the brain when it fails to signal that your’re full, puts a completely new spin on unhealthy.
Here’s what all of this information meant to me. I think I just figured out what my Doctor couldn’t tell me! Why my bad cholesterol was going up and why my blood work shows I’m “almost” pre-diabetic! Seriously, my Doctor has been on me for a few years now because my total cholesterol is just slightly over 200. And we know 200 is the magic number. She’s been pushing me to start taking medicine which I have to date said no too because I want to lower it with diet and exercise. Recently she’s been mentioning my potential for pre-diabetes because of the inconsistent blood work results I’ve had. She harps getting the blood work under control but hasn’t to this day explained any of why this is happening to me. I think I found my magic bullet.
Lastly, don’t be tricked by alternate names for HFCS. It is sometimes labeled as: maize syrup, glucose syrup, fructose syrup, tapioca syrup and fruit fructose and more.
Ask yourself this, why do food companies need to use an alternate name for high fructose corn syrup on their labels?
Good luck, read your product labels and question everything! Please leave me a comment about your experiences with high fructose corn syrup, or if you really want to know who was on my knee socks in the ’80s!!