Is the increased use of high-fructose corn syrup responsible for the rise in obesity?

A lot of food science is driven by ‘We have this stuff left over from processing <food>; what can we do with it?’ For a fascinating discussion of corn and the products that we use every day that are at least partially derived from corn, please see Margaret Visser’s book, “Much Depends on Dinner: The Extraordinary History and Mythology, Allure and Obsessions, Perils and Taboos, of an Ordinary Meal”. The listing at - along with sample pages - is here:

I think the more interesting question is this:

Is the increase in obesity in the U.S. related to the fact that many foods now include HFCS (or other sugars), whereas in the past they did not?

Did the ketchup, spaghetti sauce, apple sauce, mayo, etc. of 30 years ago contain sugar or HFCS?

Probably not. But they do now.

Cecil could have mentioned this … and in fact, it may be one of the points that the boyfriend in the original qustion was trying to make.

I think the most interesting question, which went almost entirely unanswered was, “is HFCS bad for you?” I’ve read a number of things by people like Jack Lalane who claim that anything processed is worse than anything “untouched.” While this isn’t the place for that discussion, I think a more thorough examination of that would have helped the answer rather than going for the easy, “is something that relatively few grams of are eaten during the day contributing to a nation of fatasses?”

One of the major points Cecil make is that HFCS and traditional sugar are so similar that no meaning difference can be made healthwise.

I think the most interesting question is, “If Archer Daniels Midland is a major producer of HFCS and also a major contributor to National Public Radio, can I write off a portion of my annual Coca-Cola expenses as a charitable contribution?” :smiley:

[drags the discussion back to topic]

I actually wrote to the Straight Dope about high fructose corn syrup years ago. I never heard back. Maybe sometime soon I’ll find out whether Native American males grow facial hair or not.

I can corroborate some of Cecil’s points, though. A few years back – several, probably – I went batshit crazy over HFCS and did my best to eliminate it from my diet. My weight had been going up steadily for years, since I got to college, and after reading some Web pages about HFCS I decided, what the heck, it couldn’t hurt. Damn, it was hard. Bread was the most difficult thing to find without HFCS, and soft drinks were next. But I fell in love with Nantucket Nectars Half and Half (half lemonade, half iced tea). I looked forward to Passover when I could get kosher Coke, which is made with cane sugar, just like the old Coke used to be (corn isn’t kosher for Passover), and I used to stock up on 2-liter bottles like crazy.

After a couple of years following an HFCS-free diet, I found that my weight went exactly nowhere. In fact it probably went up some.

A few months ago I was diagnosed as pre-diabetic, or glucose intolerant. Since I watched my great-uncle and my grandmother die from diabetes, and it wasn’t pretty, I got seriously motivated. I’ve been seeing a dietician and I bought a glucometer to test my blood sugar regularly. I’ve been slowly cutting down or removing foods (and drinks) which raise my blood sugar, trying to get 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, and cycling 10 to 12 miles a week (I’m trying to double that, too).

After a couple of months of following this regimen, I’ve lost over ten pounds, my pants keep falling off, my belt has four new holes in it, and I feel pretty okay. I still miss my Linden’s cookies, and I still drink more NN1/2 than I should, but I’m a lot better than I’ve ever been.

My father is a full-blown diabetic. One day he felt really awful and checked his blood sugar and found it was getting low. So he began drinking the only sugary thing in the house: Orange juice. Too bad most of the sugar in OJ is fructose, though, because his blood sugar went down even further. The doctor told him to mix table sugar in with the juice. That fixed it.

So: Fructose is processed differently by the body, but there isn’t so much more of it in HFCS that it makes a difference. Just like Cecil wrote. Excellent.

I gave up avoiding HFCS entirely. I now enjoy Coke and Pepsi and so on, in moderation. I still try to swerve away from HFCS just on principle: It is factory refined, and who knows what nasty chemicals residues are present in tiny amounts? But I’m not a fanatic any more.

Too bad, though. I miss feeling smug.

– Chris.

I think the question is why is HFCS so cheap. The answer is likely that it’s cheap because corn is heavily subsidized by our goverment. Likewise, cheap corn is also what makes (in part) cheap meat, since chickens and cows are largly fed corn and corn byproducts.

So, if we eliminated the subsidies for corn and susidized fresh fruit/veg then we might have an effect. It would also be nice if the largest agricultural nation in the world could turn a profit on grain without enournous subsidies.

Just my $.02.

PS, I’d love to find a good cite on US corn subsidies, but I don’t feel likw wading through the USDA budget right now.

Those products have always contained sugar in some form, if that’s what you’re asking. They used to include cane sugar, and now they include HFCS instead.

Possibly. I’ve heard that Europeans don’t use corn syrup, mainly because it’s not cheaper than cane sugar over there.

Then again, American corn subsidies probably don’t make corn cheaper; if anything, they may make corn more expensive. Consider how much the government pays farmers to NOT farm. It wouldn’t surprise me to find extensive agriculture price supports propping up corn production. Remember, industrial farming techniques have made food very inexpensive, which is why it’s so hard to turn a profit without the government.

Corporate welfare. I wonder if Halliburton’s going to start some farms in Iraq?

This answer is absolute rubbish for a number of reasons:

  1. It is not the HFCS is more expensive in Europe, it is that Cane Sugar is cheaper to us. There are massive import duties on sugar in the US.

  2. Table Sugar, at least in the UK is sucrose, which is what you find in cane sugar. Now if you guys are using glucose and fructose then this is crazy…

  3. The problem with Fructose, which isn’t mentioned in the answer, is that it is broken down directly by the liver, overloading it. I’m no doctor, but somewhere along the line there’s a problem with insulin, and a highly increased risk of diabities.

  4. “One study says our average daily food intake increased from about 1,800 calories in 1989-91 to 2,000 in 1994-96.” Surely this must be wrong. What sort of average are we talking here? Mean, mode, median? Anyway 2000 calories is a healthy recommendation for a normally active woman!

It is the diabetic link that is the problem. HFCS leads to increased levels of diabetes. Increased levels of diabetes lead to higher levels of obesity and many other health problems.

Sidenote: On the Arthur Daniels Midland ‘incident’, their chairman was quoted as saying “Here at ADM we have a saying: our customers are our enemies, and our competitors are our friends”.

And there is a massive difference in taste between HFCS made coke and sugar made coke.

crywalt is on the right track.

Most non-U.S. countries (including Canada, where I live) don’t use much HFCS. (In Canada, you do find HFCS but in products made for the North American market.)

The issue isn’t that corn (maize) is subsidized in the U.S., it’s that sugar, esp. sugar beet, production enjoys heavy price support, largely achieved through discouraging imports to the U.S. Thus “real” sugar (from cane or beet) is relatively expensive in the U.S.; and HFCS is a cheaper way to find sweetness for those things that have always been sweetened, whether cola or ketchup.

I thought Cecil’s column was pretty good, except for not quite getting why HFCS is so common in processed U.S. food stuffs.

The trouble with the processed v. unprocessed food debate is that it’s hard to find well structured experimental evidence in support of the unprocessed-is-better argument, outside of obvious things like the loss of fibre, or the addition of sugar - even if you don’t think sugar is evil, adding sugar adds calories, which most of us don’t need more of. :slight_smile:

Cheers, Richard
new member

Okay. Same difference, really.

Sucrose, table sugar (or cane sugar or beet sugar, if you like) is a disaccharide made up of fructose and glucose. When you digest sugar, sucrose is broken down into fructose and glucose. Hence Cecil’s saying that sucrose is 50% glucose and 50% fructose.

You’re correct that fructose, as far as I understand it, is broken down by the liver, not converted directly for use by the cells, as glucose is. Fructose, from what I’ve read, is almost immediately processed by the liver into fatty acids for storage in fat cells. Thus, fructose more directly leads to gaining fat in the human body. This is probably why my dad’s blood sugar wasn’t helped by drinking orange juice: The fructose never made it to his blood stream.

Going from food directly to fat would lead to an increased risk of diabetes because there’s a link between obesity and glucose intolerance. As far as I’ve read, though, there’s no evidence that the arrow of causality goes one way or the other: Does being diabetic cause obesity, or being obese cause diabetes, or are they both caused by something else (a virus, a genetic flaw, undetectable radiation from another dimension)?

Anyway, that’s what happens with fructose. The difference in fructose content from HFCS
(55%) and cane sugar (50%) is the main thing: Whether sweetened with sugar or HFCS, you’re getting pretty much the same amount of fructose.

Now, interesting idea: Since fructose from sucrose goes through that extra step that straight fructose does not, does that make a difference in how any of it is processed by the body? I don’t think anyone’s answered that question.

No argument here. After going off HFCS for so long, I found it tastes very…syrupy.

– Chris.

Here’s a website with a discussion about high fructose corn syrup:
Ask Questions

Someone there brought up the HFCS price vs sugar price in US. (S)he said that, due to govt action to help the US sugar industry, the price of sugar in the US is way higher than in the rest of the world. In the US, sugar is more expensive than HFCS; in most other countries, sugar is less expensive than HFCS. This is why HFCS is found in so many of the foods on US supermarket shelves.

When it comes to things that do not seem to me to need to contain sweeteners – bread, crackers, pasta sauce, ketchup, etc. – I have found that when such products are labeled as being low carb, they tend not to include sweeteners. In my local supermaket, the only pasta sauce of the type I wanted that I could find that did not contain any sweetener was a low carb tomato basil sauce, which turned out to taste great. I also found a low carb flax bread that I really like. In reading ingredient lists, I’ve found that HFCS does seem to be the most-used sweetener.

When I lived in Hawaii, one of the recurring political issues was the need to protect the local sugar cane industry. It was a very important issue for the state’s congressional delegation. The Hawaiian sugar cane industry couldn’t survive without protection from cheap imported sugar. On the other hand, large consumers of sugar, like American candy manufacturers, believe that they are being hurt by artificially high prices for sugar.

I wish Coca-Cola would bring back the old Coke that was made with cane sugar. I can’t stand the taste of the Coke made with HFCS. Currently, the old formula is only available in limited areas during Passover.

Australia and the US just concluded a “free trade” deal (really an entrenchment of subsidies ands protectionism), but the one item that was specifically excluded by the US negotiators was access to the highly protected US sugar market. Our govt went in to the negotiations saying “if sugar’s off the negotiating table then there’s no deal”, but when it became clear that there would in fact be no deal (just before the local federal elections) they backed down on this committment.

The US sugar lobby must be impressive.

You have to understand that the US sugar lobby is married to the US anti-Castro lobby. Do you remember the Demi Moore movie /Striptease/? The original novel by Carl Hiaasen has rather a lot to say on the subject.

Slight diversion from does FRUCTOSE lead to OBESITY?

Fructose, unlike glucose, is selectively shunted towards the liver, and the formation of fats. But a fructose rich diet also stimulates the liver to release triglycerides into the blood - not a good thing. This is thought to produce insulin resistance and heart disease.

Nutritionists at the University of Minnesota have performed experiments that support this.

The Journal of Nutrition, Vol. 131:2001 p 2074

Corn syrup is virtually pure fructose, whereas normal table sugar (sucrose) is half fructose.

[pedant]What is HFSC?[/pedant]


Well, it shouldn’t. That extra step of cleaving the sucrose into glucose + fructose occurs in the small intestine, before the sugars are absorbed into the bloodstream – in fact, it’s necessary for that absorption to happen. Interesting digression – lactose intolerance is caused by lack of production of an enzyme that does the same thing to lactose (a slightly different disaccharide), which results in the lactose not being absorbed and passing through the digestive tract unchanged. Back on topic, there’s no particular reason why there should be any difference.

And yeah, corn syrup in the unprocessed form is almost entirely glucose – the processing turns some of the glucose into fructose, which increases the sweetness. “High-fructose” is a relative term.

OK, retraction in order.

I got that figure from a New Scientist article - page 30, 1 September 2001 (vol 171).

I believe that Cecil is correct and New Scientist is wrong. Corn syrup is NOT virtually pure fructose. As Cecil said it is similar in proportion to sucrose - 50/50 glucose/fructose.