If you’re still recovering from all those holiday treats, take comfort in the fact that you’re probably not alone. It seems like Christmastime inevitably brings with it a multitude of sweet snacks, many of which contain sugar and/or high fructose corn syrup, the latter of which has been the subject of much discussion in the food industry over the last decade. High fructose corn syrup, or HFCS, is a go-to sweetener for food manufacturers. It pops up just about everywhere – you’ll find it in everything from sodas, cereals, candy and many processed foods. In fact, take a look at the labels on the food products you buy and there’s a very good chance it’ll be among the ingredients. Some experts think it is no more harmful than traditional sugar, or sucrose, but others believe it can lead to increased risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity. Either way, the odds are very good that you’re consuming at least some amount of HFCS every day.
“The actual, chemical differences between HFCS and sugar are pretty small,” said Blount Memorial registered dietitian Angie Tillman. “The most-commonly used type of HFCS is made up of 45 percent glucose and 55 percent fructose, while regular table sugar is about 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose. That small difference, though, is crucial. The fructose and glucose percentages look nearly the same, but they’re not bonded in the same way. Because of this, fructose can be absorbed more rapidly in HFCS than in sugar, which can lead to a bigger jump in insulin release, which, in turn, can affect metabolism, appetite and weight gain,” she explained.
“A Yale University study analyzed the differences between consuming high concentrations of glucose and high concentrations of fructose,” Tillman continued. “Participants who drank high concentrations of glucose actually had reduced blood flow to the parts of the brain that are associated with hunger and appetite, and tested higher for hormone levels that generate the feeling of fullness. Drinking the beverage with the high concentration of fructose, though, led to differences in how that fullness feeling registered in the human brain. The conclusion was that fructose consumption can contribute to overeating, which can, of course, lead to obesity. It’s worth noting, though, that some experts felt that study was inconclusive,” she added.
“While studies like those suggest that HFCS consumption has a direct impact on obesity, other experts believe there’s no difference between it and regular sugar,” Tillman explained. “They feel that it’s all based on the total sugar content a person consumes that determines whether they’re at risk for obesity. Regardless of the sugar-HFCS debate, there are some reliable recommendations for people to lean on when it comes to what they eat. Men should be getting no more than 150 calories a day, or about nine teaspoons, from added sugar. For women, that recommendation drops to no more than 100 calories a day. Unfortunately, most of us get significantly more than the recommended amounts each day,” Tillman said. “The goal, then, is and should be to consume less of both HFCS and regular sugar, which is easy if you focus your diet on fewer processed foods and more real, whole foods,” she added.