Wednesday, March 24, 2010

High Fructose Corn Syrup - When Sweeter is Worse

Edited for request of: Do you have a list of fruits and their levels of fructose?

A study that just came out of Princeton (abstract) found out that high fructose corn syrup is worse than sugar. Now, I know I'm preaching to the choir, but I think this is important news to hit even mainstream media.  There are people who probably know HFCS is bad, but they might also think it's equivalent to sugar. Not so. 

High fructose corn syrup is a concoction made from corn and manufactured to be sweet. The process converts the glucose to fructose, hence, "high fructose." There are actually different percentages manufactured, but the most popular ones are HFCS 55 (55% fructose, 45% glucose) used in soda and other drinks, and HFCS 42 which is used in foods.  Although the process was invented in the 1950s, HFCS wasn't used in food production until the late 1970s. A study done in 2008 shows that the average American consumed 37.8 POUNDS of HFCS...that's not even total sugar!

-Although same in total calories, the HFCS diet created more body fat in rats (This is not saying sugar is good; it's just saying HFCS is even worse than most thought)
-Results were similar for both short term (2 months) and long term (6-8 months) trials
-Besides becoming obese, the rats demonstrated other signs of metabolic syndrome such elevated triglycerides, abdominal fat. (This can also happen when you consume grains. The grains are converted to sugar and stored as fat, raising triglyceride levels and causing metabolic syndrome.)
-all of these signs may be precursors to cancer, diabetes, coronary disease, and other life threatening illnesses. (No one wants this)
-The scientists believe that a large part of this difference is due to the fructose found in HFCS: fructose is almost immediately stored as fat versus glucose which may be used by the muscles and/or stored as glycogen in the liver (although not mentioned in the study or article, the fructose is a reason that you may not be leaning out, even on a no grain, no sugar diet. If you are having an excessive amount of FRUIT, esp. apples, bananas, grapes, you may be converting this fructose to fat stores)*
-The best part about the study? The fact that rats on the HFCS diet gained more weight than the ones on a high fat diet.

So now you're saying "ok, well I'll avoid the HFCS and sugar and go for the diet stuff with aspartme." If you're not saying that, you might be saying "ok, well I'll substitute with agave nectar and stevia." Either of these "healthier" options won't work. If you eat something sweet, your body will actually produce an insulin response and react the same way as if it had sugar and/or HFCS. And if you didn't know, it's actually the INSULIN response from SUGAR SPIKES that stores fat....NOT eating fat. So don't even go with the aspartme, agave, or stevia. Drink your water straight up, or with lemon juice in it, and drink your coffee and tea black. 

*List of foods and fruit and their fructose/glucose/sucrose levels. Apples, grapes, pears, and cherries top the whole fruit list for fructose.  You can see from this table why dried fruit is more convenient, but less healthy than whole fruit. Best fruit to have would be berries: raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and my favorite, strawberries.

Now, KEEP IN MIND that if you are just learning about how to clean up your diet that I would rather you be eating apples, bananas, and pears over soda, cookies, and chips. However, if you already have a pretty clean diet and want to clean it up even more, try limiting your fruit intake and stick with meat and veggies.


  1. Well said. One other problem with agave nectar... It can have as much or more fructose in it than HFCS.

    Check out this article, which is actually written in defense of agave nectar, ironically enough:

    Keep in mind that "fructan" and "inulin", for most practical purposes, mean fructose.

  2. Good post Chris. The link to the list of fruits does not seem to work.

  3. Thanks Goat! I'm originally from your town, so I'll be sure to visit CF Rising. I'm Barbara's nephew if that means anything.

    JZuck, good to know. I knew I could count on you for keeping an eagle eye out for things like that. Consider it fixed.

  4. What's wrong with stevia? After all it has been used as a principal sweetener in Japan for 30+ years (and countless other countries that are markedly healthier than the US). I don't understand why it's cited here in this article alongside agave, which we know is almost entirely fructose. Is consuming stevia in limited moderation such a danger to one's health? Let's be real here. Most people do now like their beloved coffee or tea black.

  5. Hi Susannah, thanks for visiting! The fact that other people read this besides those I pay off is pretty sweet. Anyway, sounds like you know your stuff, which is great. You're right, stevia has been used by a ton of countries for a long time and it IS different than agave. However, I do believe there are people out there that group those two together as "healthier" substitutes for sugar and HFCS. These same people probably don't know about fructose in agave which is why I posted this.

    In moderation is it dangerous? Probably not, but neither are apples and bananas. The reason I mention stevia is the simple fact that it is super sweet. This sweetness can make the body have an insulin response despite not having any sugar. Actually, just THINKING about sweet things can make the body produce some insulin. Here is a discussion board where Robb Wolf explains it a bit more:

    In the end, I agree with you that in moderation you're probably fine. But if someone out there is eating clean and still struggling to find that missing link, sweeteners like stevia may be the answer. Hope that helps!

  6. Chris, it certainly does mean something. That's how Aileen and I found your blog. Barbara is great. She pushes herself and has fun doing it.

    Funny thing is that I am from Berks and Lebanon Counties, not far from KoP. Weird, huh?

  7. Hey Chris,
    I agree with everything but the stevia which I still use in moderation. I know of two theories out there on "sweet" things and insulin. One being the "central governor theory" which essentially says that insulin response is controlled by the brain and anything sweet would release insulin. The other is the more straight forward version of intake starch or sugar increased glucose, insulin reponse. I tend to believe that everyone has a different response. If you really, really want to know buy a $14 blood glocose meter and test of few different sweeteners to see how you respond. If you follow Dr. Davis on The Heart Scan Blog he actually recommends a checking the glucose response for to see how you react to meals on a regular basis.

  8. Hey Chris,
    Just a follow up to the Stevia. I saw a recent question on Paleo Hacks about it. Here is a link to the question an comments.

  9. Interestingly, as bad as a high-sugar diet is, its addictive properties appear to make it extraordinarily difficult to stop - .

    Pretty ingenious of the food industry to get people hooked on a diet with "cocaine-like" addictive properties. I give folks like Whole Nine a lot of credit for helping people off the "crack" with their "Whole 30" challenge - Its like rehab for bad eating habits!

  10. Mike, cutting out sugar and grains is EXACTLY like getting off crack. The problem I see with the CNN article is that they lump "sausage and bacon" with "frosting" and equate their fattening properties. I disagree with that since sugar from frosting will get stored as fat much more quickly than fat from bacon. So the perception that meat is fattening is still out there and misleading.

    The following article is from 2005 where Nicole Carroll (CrossFit legend, works for CF headquarters) writes about "Getting Off the Crack" aka cutting out grains and sugar. While some articles in the Journal are free, I HIGHLY recommend paying the $25 per year subscription for it. It has almost daily articles/videos on everything from nutrition, to olympic lifting, to seeing the real firebreathers working out.

    Also, as you probably know, KoP will be doing the Whole30 challenge for April, so I'm excited to see some major changes in people!


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