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Food Trends: High Fructose Corn Syrup – is it really that bad?

I hear many interesting comments from the many people I come in contact with on a daily basis about nutrition.  A hot topic right now continues to be high fructose corn syrup.  Some recent statements I’ve heard are “I try not to buy that because of the high fructose corn syrup” or “I won’t feed that to my children because I don’t want them to have too much high fructose corn syrup.”

Statements like those above are a catch twenty-two for me.  On one hand I’m ecstatic that the general population cares about what we are feeding ourselves and our family, but on the other hand it solidifies my concern that nutrition education is still very much behind par. 

As a registered dietitian, I have never thought twice about high fructose corn syrup. It definitely became the designer fad, years ago and I am shocked at how its negative reputation is still going strong.  Statements have even been made linking high fructose corn syrup to obesity, but my latest search on actual research yields nothing significant that can extract high fructose corn syrup as a specific ingredient causing obesity.

So folks, to understand what high fructose corn syrup is it’s necessary to understand different components of bio and organic chemistry that I’m not going to get into. Simply said, high fructose corn syrup is a sweetener derived from corn.  When digested and broken down it is breaks down into two simple sugars, fructose and glucose.  Fructose is sugar derived from fruit sources and glucose is table sugar. Doesn’t sound so bad now does it?

Instead of honing in on high fructose corn syrup, my recommendation is to pay more attention to the sources of food you are eating or providing to your family.  In a society where everyone is strapped financially and ridden with deadlines, it is easy to become attracted to inexpensive and quick meals.  Because high fructose corn syrup is less expensive for mass production and yields a better product from an integrity standpoint, you see it more in your pre packaged foods, but like ALL sugars this yields 4 calories per gram which contributes to your total calorie intake in a day.

At the end of the day and as a registered dietitian, I’m here to tell you that it is not one single item that causes obesity.  It is overall calories in verses overall calories expended period end of sentence.   If you are looking to hone in on sweeteners in general, don’t just focus on the high fructose sweetener, focus on any additive sweetener.  Find a way to provide more fresh and frozen items into your diet instead of the canned or prepackaged foods. This will not only most likely decrease your overall calorie intake but it will also provide you with the best source of vitamins and minerals you require.  Also as a hint, the first ingredient listed on any product provides the largest proportion to that item so instead of buying foods with sweeteners listed first, look for them to be listed last or not at all.  Good luck and be healthy.

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