It seems that every couple years our society targets a new food, which is then blamed for every possible ailment and natural disasters alike. In the 1980s it was dietary fats. Then Dr. Atkins rolled around and carbs became evil.
Lately, trans fats have been pretty much outlawed, red meat will kill you after one bite and now high fructose corn syrup is under fire. So I figured let's take a look as to what it is and what it isn't and draw conclusions from there.
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a liquid fructose-glucose mix, which has been used as a sweetener in foods and soft drinks since the 1970s. High fructose corn syrup is more stable and cheaper than cane sugar.
It is not much different in terms of composition from sucrose (table sugar) or honey. Basically, its a 45/55% mix of fructose and glucose, two simple sugars. Again, like table sugar or honey (which, in all fairness, contains enzymes and vitamins that other sugars do not).
Here is a basic comparison of all 3 sweeteners:
- High Fructose Corn Syrup: 42% Fructose, 53% Glucose
- Sucrose: 50% Fructose, 50% Glucose
- Honey: 49% Fructose, 43% Glucose
No earth shattering differences there. Yet, for some reason, high fructose corn syrup (in combination with the current government officials) is being blamed for all the issues that are plaguing the US, namely obesity, diabetes and the budget deficit. Ok, scratch the last one.
Where this comes from, I am somewhat uncertain. I am guessing that it started with the "fruit is evil" movement. While it is true that fructose, when consumed in large amounts, can cause gastric distress, it won't destroy your physique all at once.
In fact, fruit (the whole thing, not juice) in a diet is extremely helpful, since fructose is primarily stored in the liver and the fullness of the storage plays a role in regulating hunger. Liver glycogen management is also helpful in terms of post workout recovery, but that's not the point of this article.
Another erroneous belief regarding high fructose corn syrup is that it can't be properly metabolized in the body and turns into some evil component once in your system, which then will make all your muscles fall off. This is simply not true.
As mentioned before, large amounts of fructose can cause stomach issues but high fructose corn syrup contains less fructose than table sugar or honey. High fructose corn syrup is pretty much digested like table sugar and is equally sweet while containing the same amount of calories (4.1 per gram).
So what makes America obese? You might have guessed it: over-consumption. Daily calorie intake rose by 500 calories from 1980 till 2000, while activity levels dropped. Foods containing high fructose corn syrup (or any other sugar) are easily over consumed. 80 ounce soda anyone? That soda, however, would do the same damage to your body if cane sugar had been used.
In fact, due to regulation and an overall hysteria regarding high fructose corn syrup, less high fructose corn syrup is being used. Yet, America keeps getting fatter. It’s a classical example, where the baby is being thrown out with the bath water.
In a calorie-controlled environment, high fructose corn syrup will not do any damage to your diet. Yes, calories matter; they matter more than anything else when it comes to losing weight. High fructose corn syrup is not an evil substance in itself, it will not turn you into a cancer ridden diabetic just like eating goji berries won't make you Mr. Olympia either.
I think one concept, that has gotten lost is the one of personal responsibility. Nobody can beat the laws of thermodynamics. If you take in more calories than you use on a day to day basis, you'll gain weight. People tend to develop OCD-like behavior over small details such as pomegranate juice or acai berry for anti-oxidants usage while forgetting to keep a food log.
This is what is called the dieter's paradox: despite rising diet consciousness and more and more healthy food choices being available, America keeps getting fatter. How’s that possible? Because most dieters do not equate healthy or "organic" foods with calories and simply eat too much of them.
First and foremost, you must create a caloric deficit if you want to lose weight. Sounds redundant but in 90% of all cases I have witnessed, it isn’t done. Instead, the diet is switched to so-called "healthy foods", which are "good for you."
Guess what? If your basic metabolic rate is 2000 calories and you are consuming 3000 calories worth of precious organic food, you'll gain weight. If you eat 1500 calories worth of gummy bears, you'll lose weight (coming soon: the gummy bear diet).
Now please note, I did not say that you should eat only gummy bears to get into Shredded Town, but you need to cut calories. Simply cutting out some supposedly evil food won't do it.
All this obsessing over tiny details and joining the frenzy du jour probably causes a greater release of cortisol and thereby more harm than high fructose corn syrup ever could. So, relax, eat your chicken and do your squats.