It Takes Guts to Fight Obesity
If you drink soda, energy drinks and bottled juices or eat baked foods like cakes and breads, you’re likely ingesting liquid sugar.
High Fructose Corn Syrup or HFCS has been receiving a lot of buzz lately as a possible cause for the rise in obesity and chronic diseases over the past few decades. For some, it’s not a coincidence that, since its introduction into the food and beverage industry in the late 70's, obesity rates have been increasing dramatically.
So far, the Department of Agriculture states that per capita consumption of HFCS is actually decreasing in our country. Obesity and diabetes rates continue to rise around the world, even though HFCS use is limited outside the U.S, accounting for about 8% of caloric sweeteners used.
So what really is HFCS, and is sugar and honey healthier?
HFCS is nearly identical in composition to table sugar (50% glucose and 50% fructose), with the addition of corn syrup as a non-sweet thickener, providing 4 calories per gram, or 16 calories in a teaspoon (same as honey or table sugar). Because they are nearly compositionally equivalent, the human body cannot tell the difference.
Despite its name, HFCS is not high in fructose. It is high in fructose in relation to the amount of corn syrup used, and is considered by the FDA to be a "natural product" made from corn with no artificial or synthetic ingredients.
To understand why it is found in so many foods and beverages, one must appreciate its versatility and value to these industries. In baked goods, it provides a pleasing brown crust to breads and cakes by contributing fermentable sugars to yeast-raised products, reducing sugar crystallization during baking for soft-moist textures, and enhancing flavors or fruit fillings. It protects firm texture, improves the shelf life of products, and enhances flavor and balance—pretty versatile for a "natural sweetener."
Scientific evidence at this point feels that the human body cannot tell the difference between HFCS and sugar. Researchers have found that they do not differ significantly in their short-term effects on feelings of fullness and levels of food intake at a subsequent meal. There has been no difference found in "metabolic effects" or circulating levels of glucose or insulin in your blood between using HFCS or table sugar.
Whether or not the science is falling behind in this research, the following facts are interesting and intriguing:
Did you know that if you substitute one sugar drink per day with water, you could save 980 calories per week, 4200 calories per month, and 51,000 calories per year?
To burn those many calories, you would have to walk 511 miles a year, dance for 155 hours, swim 350 miles, or bike 1,039 miles.
Mitchell S. Kushner, MD, MPH, is a Medical Director with the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Health and collaborates with various Community Partners to address the childhood obesity epidemic.