Ever wonder what the big fuss is all about? What exactly is high-fructose corn syrup and how is it made? Why should you bother avoiding it, and what can you eat instead? Eloise Nelson, nutritionist, co-founder, and formulator of Foodie Fuel Snacks, breaks it all down for you here.
What is High-Fructose Corn Syrup?
It’s been called “the Devil’s candy” and “the crack of sweeteners”—but do we even have a clear grasp on what comprises this sweet, processed syrup? Before we dive in any further, let’s start with the basics: what is high-fructose corn syrup and how is it made.
According to corn.org, high-fructose corn syrup is a synthetic liquid sweetener that’s made from corn and comes in two primary compositions—HFCS-42 and HFCS-55, meaning that it’s either 42 percent fructose or 55 percent fructose. So just how is all that fructose packed into a syrup? Simple answer: it’s highly processed. And here’s how.
High-fructose corn syrup begins its journey in the cornfields. Most of the time it starts as simple corn kernels that are doused with pesticides and genetically engineered. This corn is then milled to produce cornstarch. Water and enzymes, which are made from bacteria, are added, which break glucose down into smaller molecules to create corn syrup. Process that corn syrup a little bit more by adding yet another yeast enzyme that converts the glucose into fructose, and you’ve got high-fructose corn syrup.
HFCS-42, the 42 percent fructose variety, is similarly sweet in taste to cane sugar and is used in many bakery and food items; whereas, HFCS-55, the 55 percent fructose variety, is sweeter than cane sugar and is used primarily in soft drinks. Now onto why this highly processed syrup was created in the first place.
The History Behind High-Fructose Corn Syrup
Whether it’s chemical taste enhancers, GMOs, or some other harmful artificial substance you might find hidden in your food’s lengthy ingredient lists, there’s always a reason behind their creation. Whether it’s initially a noble effort—as in MSG’s invention, to remedy a country’s poor diet by creating a “good, inexpensive seasoning to make bland, nutritious food tasty”—or not, it’s helpful to hear the history to better understand the method behind the madness.
In high-fructose corn syrup’s case, like many other things, its creation was all about money. Cane sugar shortages caused a dramatic price increase in sugar, making it largely unavailable to the common person, so the industry created high-fructose corn syrup—a much cheaper and sweeter alternative. And why corn as the vegetable originator? Sweeteners are typically made from starchy foods, and corn is in no short supply in the United States, so it made for a simple decision. The ratios were right, too—it takes 3.2 pounds of corn to make 1 pound of high-fructose corn syrup.
Why and How to Avoid High-Fructose Corn Syrup
In today’s food and beverage industry, if you’re buying processed foods and drinks, you’re going to be hard-pressed to find options that don’t include high-fructose corn syrup. We’re talking drinks like soda, energy drinks, vitamin water, fruit juice, and—sorry to break it to you—beer. You’ll find it in bakery items, breads, pastas, condiments, processed meats, canned fruits and vegetables, fast food, and even prescription medication and postal stamps.
You may think that high-fructose corn syrup is everywhere, but, believe me—it’s wholeheartedly avoidable and should be avoided at all costs. Unlike table sugar, coconut sugar, and honey, with high-fructose corn syrup, the fructose is not bound to the glucose molecule—this means that the fructose goes directly to the liver for processing. This unnatural pathway destroys your liver’s ability to function properly, disrupts your metabolism, and over stimulates insulin production, which can lead to Type 2 diabetes and cause kidney damage.
The good news, though, is that it is possible to find foods that don’t use high-fructose corn syrup whatsoever. My first bit of advice: buy whole foods as much as possible. If you do buy processed or packaged foods, be sure to scan the nutrition labels before purchasing—if the ingredients include high-fructose corn syrup, then don’t buy them.
Choose Sustainable, Organic Coconut Sugar
We understand that it’s unrealistic for one to eat straight from the farmers market at all times, so that’s why we at Foodie Fuel have created a delicious packaged snack food that’s completely free of high-fructose corn syrup.
Foodie Fuel Snacks are sweetened with organic coconut sugar—a smart substitute to high-fructose corn syrup and regular sugar for so many reasons. Not only does coconut sugar contain nine vitamins, 13 minerals, and 16 amino acids, the coconut sugar we source to produce Foodie Fuel Snacks is also organic, non-GMO, and sustainable. Every shipment Foodie Fuel purchases is third-party tested by our supplier guaranteeing that our certified organic coconut sugar is pure and completely void of high-fructose corn syrup.
Environmentally and socially friendly, the coconut palm tree produces a whopping 50 to 75 percent more sugar than cane sugar using just 20 percent of the resources required by cane sugar. Plus, most cane sugar, unless it’s organic, has been heavily sprayed with chemicals, is overly processed, and is void of nutrients. Genetically engineered sugar beets source most sugar on the market today.
The reason that organic coconut sugar is better for your body than high-fructose corn syrup is because it’s 70 to 79 percent sucrose and is only 35 on the glycemic index. This means that coconut sugar gets metabolized slowly through the bloodstream and it doesn’t spike blood sugar and insulin levels the way that other sweeteners do. Its fiber and nutrients are responsible for the slow sugar release.
Another important thing to remember is that the fructose found in organic coconut sugar is bound to the sucrose molecule, which means that it’s metabolized naturally through the body. Alternatively, high-fructose corn syrup is not bound to the glucose molecule, so it takes an unnatural pathway—straight to the liver— and causes all kinds of health issues.
The Future of Sweeteners in the Food Industry
Today many large corporations, such as PepsiCo and Snapple, are busy launching new “natural” products that are sweetened with cane and beet sugars—and are being positioned as a chic alternative to high-fructose corn syrup.
While it’s great that people are gaining a better understanding of high-fructose corn syrup and are searching for healthier alternatives for themselves and for their families, unfortunately, most sugar beets are genetically engineered and are heavily sprayed with chemicals. And white sugar isn’t a great option either, as it’s heavily processed and even bleached with chemicals. Both cane and beet sugars are void of nutrients and fiber, so they raise blood sugar levels and rob the body of nutrients, because they’re empty calories that typically get converted into fat. It’s a shame that these large corporations—and their subsequent advertising campaigns—are effectively tricking people into thinking that they’re purchasing a healthier alternative.
My thoughts on high-fructose corn syrup’s future in the food and beverage industry, though, are optimistic. As people become more educated on nutrition and how it affects their health, I am hopeful that high-fructose corn syrup will no longer be used as a sweetener at all. Our bodies are simply not designed to metabolize “fake,” overly processed food—and there is no place for high-fructose corn syrup, chemical taste enhancers, color enhancers, or preservatives in our food, which provide empty calories, rob the body of nutrition, and are the building blocks for disease.
Invest in Your Health
Sometimes eating healthy may seem like a time suck—and a money suck. But regardless, we at Foodie Fuel always encourage people to invest in their health by purchasing organic food. It may cost more money initially; however, you are investing in a healthy body, which is where you live every single day you’re on this earth. It’s worth it to fuel yourself well.
Be well, my friends,
Nutritionist, co-founder, and formulator of Foodie Fuel Snacks