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Is high-fructose corn syrup really making us fat?

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A well-known television ad campaign sponsored by the Corn Refiners Association tells us that high-fructose corn syrup is “is made from corn, has no artificial ingredients, has the same calories as sugar and is okay to eat in moderation,” so we all feel better about digesting it, right?

Think again. High-fructose corn syrup may be public enemy number one when it comes to our diet. Even if you have a tendency not to pack in the calories, this sweetener may be the reason you are packing around extra weight.

In the 40 years since the introduction of high-fructose corn syrup as a cost-effective sweetener in the American diet, rates of obesity in the U.S. have skyrocketed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 1970, around 15 percent of the U.S. population met the definition for obesity; today, roughly 1/3 of the American adults are considered obese, the CDC reported.

High-fructose corn syrup is found in a wide range of foods and beverages, including fruit juice, soda, cereal, bread, yogurt, ketchup and mayonnaise. On average, Americans consume 60 pounds of the sweetener per person every year.

“Some people have claimed that high-fructose corn syrup is no different than other sweeteners when it comes to weight gain and obesity, but our results make it clear that this just isn't true, at least under the conditions of our tests," said psychology professor Bart Hoebel, who specializes in the neuroscience of appetite, weight and sugar addiction at Princeton University.

Hoebel and his team discovered when rats are drinking high-fructose corn syrup at levels well below those in soda pop, they're becoming obese— every single one, across the board. “Even when rats are fed a high-fat diet, you don't see this; they don't all gain extra weight.”

And these rats aren’t just getting fat. They are exhibiting the characteristics of obesity, including substantial increases in abdominal fat and circulating triglycerides, says Princeton graduate student Miriam Bocarsly. In humans these characteristics are known factors for high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, cancer and diabetes.

When male rats in the Princeton study were given water sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup in addition to a standard diet of rat chow, the animals gained much more weight than male rats that received water sweetened with table sugar, or sucrose, along with the standard diet. The concentration of sugar in the sucrose solution was the same as is found in some commercial soft drinks, while the high-fructose corn syrup solution was half as concentrated as most sodas.

In addition to causing significant weight gain in lab animals, long-term consumption of high-fructose corn syrup also led to abnormal increases in body fat, especially in the abdomen, and a rise in circulating blood fats called triglycerides. The researchers say the work sheds light on the factors contributing to obesity trends in the United States.

The rats became obese by drinking high-fructose corn syrup, but not by drinking sucrose. The critical differences in appetite, metabolism and gene expression that underlie this phenomenon are yet to be discovered, but may relate to the fact that excess fructose is being metabolized to produce fat, while glucose is largely being processed for energy or stored as a carbohydrate, called glycogen, in the liver and muscles.

The research was supported by the U.S. Public Health Service.

Lynette Summerill, is an award-winning journalist who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. In addition to writing about cancer-related issues, she writes a blog, Nonsmoking Nation, which follows global tobacco news and events.

Add a Comment4 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

Yes it does make you fat ! I switched to Pepsi Throwback made with real sugar, the pounds I struggled to lose just melted away ! when Pepsi stopped selling it one week later my pounds started comming back.
I lost 6 sizes about 50 lbs in 8 months ! On top of that I noticed I had more energy with sugar and felt quite lazy and weak with the corn syrup. I now only drink Ice tea made with real sugar, which is usually in the powder mix, not the ones you buy ready made ! I wish Pepsi would just sell the soda with sugar I wouls pay more for it

April 14, 2010 - 7:55am

I think it IS fine in moderation. I would never prohibit my child from having a Popsicle just because it contains corn syrup. The problem is that a lot of the things kids love contain fructose. That's where we, as parents, have to come in and "moderate".

If you were to take a whole day (or year) to research everything we ingest-- we wouldn't be eating ANYTHING. I don't like to overdo it with foods, switching it up, eating enough to satisfy, not fill you up is the way we do things around my house. My one year old is too young for sugary things but as he grows up I know he will ask for juice, popsicles, and other items that contain vast amounts of corn syrup in them and I will give him the option to choose. Why? Because I have a step daughter whose mother does not allow any form of carbonated beverages in their home so she finds any other home that carries it and can guzzle down a 2 liter if you let her. Moderation was not an option for her and unfortunately she "rebels" that way.

March 23, 2010 - 1:27pm
EmpowHER Guest

The problem with HFCS is that the corn is genetically modified - and not in any positive way, like to include more nutrients, as GMO advocates proclaim. The corn produces its own pesticides (absolutely impossible in nature), and is made specifically for increased yield production - so that farmers will buy as much of it as they can. This type of corn is not even meant for human consumption, until it is processed into its profitable components- hello HFCS.

GMOs are getting more and more flack as research on animals show significant and irreversible harm to their organs. I avoid corn syrup like the plague because I don't want anything in my body that has been modified in order to increase the profit margin of Monsanto. Read about GMOs and you, too, will be horrified.

March 23, 2010 - 12:36pm

Princeton researchers used grossly exaggerated intake levels and incorrectly suggested their results could have significant meaning for humans in their recent rat study on obesity and high fructose corn syrup.

Translating the study’s reported rat intakes to human proportions, the calories gained from high fructose corn syrup would be equivalent to about 3000 kcal/day all from that single source. In comparison, adult humans consume about 2,000 calories per day from all dietary sources. Such intake levels would be the equivalent of humans drinking a total of 20 cans of 12 ounce sodas per day - a highly unrealistic amount. Moreover, the researchers concluded that the rats gained more weight from high fructose corn syrup than they would have from sugar, yet they failed to provide sucrose controls for part of the study’s short-term experiments and no sucrose controls whatsoever were present in any of the long-term experiments.

No metabolic effects have been found in studies that compare sugar and high fructose corn syrup consumption in humans.

For more information, please visit www.SweetSurprise.com.

Audrae Erickson, Corn Refiners Association

March 22, 2010 - 7:02pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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