Saturday, October 09, 2010

the high fructose corn syrup post

making barley sugars
making candies at Beamish Museum (old fashioned sugar rush)

Well, the debate/scrum hit my corner of the blogosphere last week. A blog tour of mommybloggers have been given the low down on high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) by none other than the HFCS industry itself, and another group of mommybloggers are shouting them down. I won't pretend to be touched by the politics, the outrage and the wrath being visited, or the cry yet again that 'only mums can save the day' but I have started noticing how often this foodstuff(?) appears on my packaging. It's rather a lot (I also have a bottle of it in my larder ..... we made snow globes with it one year).

What is it? 
HFCS is broken down just like ordinary table sugar (the disaccharide, sucrose) in the body, yielding two monsaccharides (the building blocks of sugars) fructose and glucose. The main difference is that in HFCS, the two monosaccharides are free at the start whereas they are conjoined in sucrose. And I guess this is where the arguments begin. If it's just like ordinary table sugar, should HFCS be cast as the bogey man and should we be more concerned with total sugar intakes as a cause of obesity?

Metabolic Changes
Certainly, fructose and sucrose ingestion causes metabolic changes in man and rhesus monkeys which contribute to development of obesity, and their effects are worse than ingestion of glucose alone. It's the fructose which is the culprit but is HFCS worse?

Well, it just might be. Adding sugar sweeteners (glucose, fructose, sucrose, HFCS) to the water source of groups of rats interfered with caloric modification. In other words, when drinking in excess calories the rats failed to compensate by eating less of the solid diet. Compared with the water-only control group, energy intakes were similar in all the sweetened groups, however it was only the HFCS rats which gained significant weight and adiposity compared with the controls or the glucose-only animals. Somehow, the HFCS promoted weight gain over the course of the study. The short and long term effects of HFCS intake vs. sucrose have also been seen in another study involving rats (they are far easier than humans to regulate nutritionally) where despite taking in fewer liquid calories than the sucrose group, the corn syrup animals ended up fatter again.

In Man?
But that's rats. What about humans? Humans are much more difficult to regulate in a nutritionally and exercise-concise environment, hence the plethora of research on rats, monkeys and even dogs. Most studies linking HFSC consumption with a rise in obesity have been epidemiological rather than nutritional, i.e. population studies show that the increased rates of obesity are associated with increased sweetened beverage (a major source of HFSC in the US) intakes. The initial premise that sweetened beverages somehow blunt the satiety response i.e. would promote overeating, have proved false, and a short term study (with beverages supplied by PepsiCo no less) showed no significant hormonal changes associated with sweetened beverage intake.


Fructose - silent but deadly
But fructose itself has been implicated in the development of the hormonal changes in metabolic syndrome, a precursor of Type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. One author has stated that although it's natural, it shouldn't be assumed safe, and in another abstract, HFCS is implicated in damage even without concurrent increase in bodyweight (unclear which species is the test subject here).

In Conclusion .... not really
So where does this leave us? Well, it leaves a group of mommybloggers feeling very beleaguered as they relay 'the message' from the HFCS industry out to their niche of the blogosphere. It leaves another bunch of mommybloggers feeling all riled up and indignant and betrayed by the sisterhood perturbed.

... and it leaves the rest of us feeling confused. For myself, I will be taking more note of what I read on ingredient lists, probably moving away from products with HFCS in them since I think that with all the research around, the jury is still somewhat out. I don't think it's as innocuous as we're led to believe. As with most things nutritional, I do prefer my food to be as nature kind of intended (minus the bugs, dirt, plant toxins, excess fibre, etc). I shall add HFCS to the list along with trans fats (remember those?) and total sugars as items to cut down on.

please note, many of the articles I read through are found on PubMed as abstract only. I do not have a paid subscription to full text. Wherever possible I gleaned from full text articles in preference to abstract only.

ebb and flo by pomo mama design click to shop pomo mama design online!