Sugar vs. High Fructose Corn Syrup: Which is Better (or Worse) for You?
Have you ever seen the commercials about high fructose corn syrup? You know: the ones that try to tell you it’s bad for you but they can’t really explain why it’s bad for you. They really aren’t very helpful.
For years, there’s been an ongoing debate about high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), sugar, and other sweeteners. Some people say they are all bad for you. Some people say sugar is better than HFCS, while others strongly suggest the opposite. Yet they don’t always provide you with enough information (or any information) so you can make your own decision on the matter. So, this article is going to break things down a bit and compare sugar with high fructose corn syrup.
First, we’ll take a look at sugar. The sugar we use as an ingredient in our cooking and baking generally comes from 2 main sources: sugarcane and sugar beet, both of which are your basic, natural plants. Sugarcane is native to warmer and tropical regions and it’s the stalks of the plant that contains all the sugar. Once the sugarcane is harvested, it goes through 2 processes: milling and refining. The end product we use—which is typically referred to as table sugar—is also known as sucrose. Sucrose has been linked to a few health concerns, including tooth decay, diabetes, and obesity. Now, as for sugar beet, that also contains a high concentration of sucrose in the roots, but that is used for syrup, beverages, and other similar uses.
Now, we’ll take a look at high fructose corn syrup. Wikipedia defines HFCS as comprising “any of a group of corn syrups that has undergone enzymatic processing to convert its glucose into fructose and has then been mixed with pure corn syrup (100% glucose) to produce a desired sweetness”. This sweetener can be found in a number of food and drinks, ranging from soda to salad dressing. To break things down a bit more: the corn syrup is made from corn starch and composed of mostly glucose. Glucose is a simple sugar and a product of photosynthesis. It’s also known as a source of energy for cells. Enzymes are added to the corn syrup to convert most of the glucose to fructose. Although fructose in its basic, natural form can be found in fruit and honey, it has been linked to digestive trouble, gout, and liver disease. It should also be noted that the fructose contained in fruits is not entirely the same as that created in the HFCS process.
Okay, now that we have a basic idea of what sugar and high fructose corn syrup are, let’s continue with the comparison.
SweetSurprise.com (the website behind some of those unexplainable HFCS commercials) has a vast amount of information on high fructose corn syrup—far too much to cover in one article. However, here are some key points they cover:
• High fructose corn syrup offers numerous benefits. It keeps food fresh, enhances fruit and spice flavors, retains moisture in bran cereals, helps keep breakfast and energy bars moist, maintains consistent flavors in beverages and keeps ingredients evenly dispersed in condiments.
• High fructose corn syrup has the same number of calories as table sugar and is equal in sweetness. It contains no artificial or synthetic ingredients.
• Research confirms that high fructose corn syrup is safe and nutritionally the same as table sugar and honey.
• High fructose corn syrup is made from corn — a natural grain product. High fructose corn syrup contains no artificial or synthetic ingredients or color additives and meets the Food and Drug Administration’s requirements for use of the term “natural.”
However, SweetScam.com covers every type of sweetener you can think of. Here are some myths they’ve tried to dispel:
Myth: High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is sweeter than table sugar.
HFCS-55, the variety found in many soft drinks and other grocery products, was designed to be equal in sweetness to sucrose so that they could be used interchangeably without consumers noticing a difference in taste. HFCS-55, which is commonly used in soft drinks, is composed of 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose. Food producers also use HFCS-45, which is less sweet than sugar and HFCS-55 in many baked goods, jams and jellies, and cereals. HFCS-45 contains 45 percent fructose and 55 percent glucose.
Myth: Brown sugar, “sugar in the raw,” and honey are healthier than normal table sugar.
Brown sugar is just white sugar with molasses. The added molasses does provide a few trace nutrients not found in white sugar, but these nutrients are are too few to provide any nutritional benefit. The same is true for honey and its trace nutrients.
Myth: High Fructose Corn Syrup is in so many foods because it is subsidized by the government.
Unlike sugar, the government does not control or support the price of high fructose corn syrup. And although the government does provide some assistance to some farmers, it does not subsidize the price of the products made from those crops.
Then you have articles like this recent one on Shine, which tells you that you should definitely avoid products with HFCS because it:
• May predispose the body to turn fructose into fat
• Increases risk for Type-2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke and cancer
• Isn’t easily metabolized by the liver.
So, which is better and worse? The truth is, all sweeteners—whether they’re sugar, high fructose corn syrup, honey, or something else—have their good and bad points. Yes, they can give you a bit of a mood and energy boost, but they also come with potential health risks. My suggestion would be to check out the links listed below. All of them contain a lot of information on sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and other sweeteners. Hopefully, the information they contain will help you decide what is best for your own health.
By Heidi Marshall