High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a cheap, highly refined sweetener used extensively by food manufacturers. Several chemicals are required to make HFCS, including caustic soda, hydrochloric acid, alpha-amylase, glucoamylase, isomerase, filter aid, powdered carbon, calcium chloride, and magnesium sulfate.
The process for making HFCS begins with gigantic tanks, each holding 40,000 bushels of corn.
Hot water and sulfur dioxide are added, and the corn sits in this solution for a day or two to soften. The softened corn is then ground up, and then separated into 3 parts:
- The germ, which is used for corn oil.
- The fiber is used for animal feed.
- The starch, which is processed further.
The starch is further separated into gluten, which is used as more animal feed, and the most important part, liquid starch.
The liquid starch is then subjected to a mixture of hydrochloric acid and enzymes to separate out and concentrate the corn sweeteners.
But here’s the really scary part: The caustic soda and hydrochloric acid used in this corn “wet-milling” process is “mercury grade”, meaning the soda and acid were produce via a “mercury cell chloralkali process”. Studies that tested various HFCS products found that there were indeed traces of mercury in these products.
Here’s the abstract of a study that measured mercury amounts in high fructose corn syrup:
“Mercury cell chlor-alkali products are used to produce thousands of other products including food ingredients such as citric acid, sodium benzoate, and high fructose corn syrup. High fructose corn syrup is used in food products to enhance shelf life. A pilot study was conducted to determine if high fructose corn syrup contains mercury, a toxic metal historically used as an anti-microbial. High fructose corn syrup samples were collected from three different manufacturers and analyzed for total mercury. The samples were found to contain levels of mercury ranging from below a detection limit of 0.005 to 0.570 micrograms mercury per gram of high fructose corn syrup. Average daily consumption of high fructose corn syrup is about 50 grams per person in the United States. With respect to total mercury exposure, it may be necessary to account for this source of mercury in the diet of children and sensitive populations.”
Everyone is worried about the mercury content in fish, but most people eat very little fish. But the consumption of sweetened soda, pastries and all the other hundreds of processed foods sweetened with HFCS is much greater.
Sources of HFCS
HFCS is found in just about every processed food made. Take a few minutes to look at the ingredient labels on the foods in your fridge and cabinets, and you’ll see what I mean. It’s a very cheap sweetener and it is used extensively in foods that you wouldn’t normally think included sweeteners. Ketchup, frozen meals, canned chili, salsa, bread, and other processed foods are sweetened with HFCS.
And of course, white sugar is 50% fructose. Honey is 40% fructose, and agave syrup can be as much as 90% fructose.
Even fast food has liberal amounts of high fructose corn syrup added. Here’s a list of the worse offenders.
High fructose corn syrup has been implicated in the rising levels of diabetes, elevated levels of blood triglycerides and vital organ inflammation. It is especially hard on the liver and contributes to liver-based insulin resistance.
Glucose can be assimilated and metabolized in every cell of the body, but fructose can only be broken down by the liver. Test animals fed large amounts of fructose develop fatty deposits and scar tissue on their livers. These deposits block the flow of blood through the organ and prevent it from working as it should.
High fructose corn syrup also contains a good deal of “free” or unbound fructose. Research indicates that ingesting this unbound fructose can result in interference with the heartâ€™s use of key minerals like magnesium, copper, and chromium.
Among other consequences, HFCS has been implicated in the creation of blood clots. It has also been found to inhibit the action of white blood cells so that they are unable to defend the body against harmful foreign invaders.
Research suggests that there are other dangers from consuming high amounts of HFCS:
- the development of “metabolic syndrome”, a condition that greatly elevates the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
- a rise in obesity and insulin resistance, especially liver insulin resistance
- encouragement of kidney stone formation through an increase in uric acid production
- the promotion of gout, an extremely painful joint condition
- an increase in the cases of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
- increased production of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which are linked with the complications of diabetes and with the aging process itself
- increase in hypertension (high blood pressure) by inhibiting a key enzyme called endothelial nitric oxide synthase
- increases in blood lactic acid, especially in patients with preexisting acidotic conditions such as diabetes, postoperative stress or uremia
USDA scientists found that fructose interferes with copper metabolism to such an extent that collagen and elastin cannot form in growing animals. Studies have shown that the heart and liver in young male mice will become enlarged and inflamed if they are fed fructose.
Andrew Weil, M.D. writes that if a hospital patient is given a fructose solution instead of a glucose solution, that patientâ€™s condition will rapidly worsen, as the body cannot metabolize fructose properly. He also notes that the consumption of high fructose corn syrup in the United States increased by more than 1,000 percent between 1970 and 1990 and that this elevated consumption is one of the driving factors of the obesity epidemic in the US.
It’s the Sugar, Not the Fat
An October 2008 study from a University of Florida research team suggests that it is the interaction between the consumption of large amounts of fructose-containing foods and eating a high-fat, high-calorie diet that produces weight gain.
Many low carb diet studies have shown that a high-fat diet does NOT cause weight gain when consumed in the context of low carbohydrate intake. It is the presence of a high sugar intake that acts as the catalyst for weight changes.
Eating sugar and fat together is the weight gaining combination. And the standard American diet (SAD) is full of high fructose, high-fat foods – ice cream, chocolate, cakes, cookies, and most snack foods.
Resources for Further Reading
- The Effect of Fructose on Biology a paper which describes the effects of fructose on blood pressure and kidney function.
- Princeton researchers find that high-fructose corn syrup prompts considerably more weight gain.
- Study on Mercury Content in HFCS samples
- Grist article on Mercury in HFCS
- Grist article on HFCS Advertisements
- Stop HFCS
- Increased consumption of refined carbohydrates and the epidemic of type 2 diabetes in the United States: an ecologic assessment.