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It is estimated that nearly 7% of daily caloric consumption in the United States is from high fructose corn syrup. This estimate has been labeled as conservative, with other studies indicating that over 10% of daily calories come from fructose in the U.S. today. That's a whole lot of calories! The research over the last five years has been mixed on whether HFCS has contributed to folks being overweight or obese. I don't find any definitive studies that prove that it does, but there's enough evidence to be concerning.
Most of the research that "proves" that high fructose corn syrup is not an issue has been funded by the manufacturers. There's no doubt in my mind that funding can lead to bias, and any study not funded by a neutral party should be suspect.
There have been some worrisome animal studies. Those of you who follow Dr. Gourmet articles know that I only believe human studies, but there's enough animal evidence to be very concerning.
In the most recent a group at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute reported on their research looking at whether there might be a link between consumption of HFCS and being overweight. They performed two experiments. In the first one they showed that male rats given water sweetened with HCFS along with their regular diet of rat chow gained more weight than male rats getting water sweetened with table sugar and their standard diet which, interestingly, is called rat chow (chow, chow, chow).
In both the HCFS study group and the control group using sugar the concentration of sugars was the same as in soda but the HFCS was only half the concentration of soft drinks. So, the more concentrated sugar water didn't cause weight gain while the half-strength high fructose corn syrup water did.
The second part of their study was the first longer term research to look at the effects of HFCS consumption and the link to weight gain in lab animals. The measured a number of things including weight, triglyceride levels and body fat. They compared a group of rats eating only rat chow with a group fed a diet rich in high-fructose corn syrup. The HCFS group not only gained weight but also had a significant increase in triglycerides and belly fat (these three factors – obesity, central fat deposition and high triglycerides – are elements of metabolic syndrome).
And these guys didn't just gain a little weight. Those with the access to HFCS gained 48% more weight than those eating the regular diet.
There were four diets used in the study:
1. 24 hour HFCS and ad libitum chow
2. 12 hour HFCS and 12 hour chow
3. 12 hour sucrose and 12 hour chow
4. Ad libitum chow
Here's the breakdown of weight gain and triglycerides. As you can see the high fructose corn syrup clearly leads to more weight gain than sucrose and both more than those rats eating only chow.
|24 hour HFCS||257||201||200||225|
|12 hour HFCS||234||195||183||128|
|12 hour sucrose||183||128|
The weight gain may not just be about HFCS or added sweeteners of any kind. We do have some research about diet drinks that's pretty worrisome. In the San Antonio Heart Study researchers found that folks who drank diet drinks had a higher risk of being overweight than even those drinking regular soft drinks. The 7- to 8-year incidence (%) of overweight by daily soft drink consumption showed those drinking 2 or more cans of diet soda had a 57% risk of being overweight while those drinking regular soda only a 47% risk.
|type of soft drink||0 to < 1/2 can/day||1/2 to < 1 can/day||1 to < 2 cans/day||2+ cans/day|
|about half and half||38.9||50.0||66.7||50.0|
The take home message for all of this is that processed foods have a lot of added ingredients in them that you don't really need. The key is to look at the label. If there's added sugar, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, hydrogenated oils or other ingredients that you don't recognize, think twice about using that product.
Eat well, eat healthy, enjoy life!
Timothy S. Harlan, M.D.
April 26, 2010
Last updated: 04/26/10