We hear a lot about avoiding sugar in our diets these days but beyond moderating intake of sugar, it’s also important to consider the quality of sugars we are consuming. The dominating contributor to sugar intake in the American diet is high-fructose corn syrup and often it’s in foods that might not even seem “sweet.” Soda is a common source but it’s also added to many processed foods including condiments like ketchup, salad dressings, crackers and even bread. The big problem with high-fructose corn syrup is not just that it’s adding sugar to all kinds of food where it shouldn’t be, but is the specific kind of sugar it contains – mainly fructose – and the way our bodies process it.
Unlike glucose – the type of “sugar” you might get from a piece of bread, for example – fructose is processed solely in the liver where it gets turned directly into fat. So when we expose our bodies to abnormal concentrations of fructose, such as with high-fructose corn syrup, our livers get overworked – not good for all the other functions we need our liver to do for us! – and we accumulate more fat. Some of this fat is stored right in the liver where it can cause real problems, especially if it progresses all the way to fatty liver disease. Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup has also been associated with obesity, diabetes and heart disease in both adults and children.
So how can you make sure you’re avoiding high-fructose corn syrup in your diet? Eating whole, unprocessed foods is always the best option for optimizing nutrients and avoiding dangerous additives, but we all need to eat processed food sometimes so make sure you check your labels. Recently, big food companies have gotten wise to the unhealthy reputation their favorite ingredient has developed and have subsequently started re-labeling it under different names. Make sure to check the list of ingredients for all of these variations: high-fructose corn syrup, natural corn syrup, isolated fructose, maize (a native word for corn) syrup, glucose/fructose syrup and tapioca syrup (not from corn, but also fructose).
Written by Flannery N., Bastyr University student intern