Since the technology to produce it was first mastered in the 1960s, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has been a staple of mass-produced food. This sample essay from Ultius, dissects just how problematic high fructose corn syrup intake can be for so many people around the world, especially in the United States.
The effects of high fructose corn syrup on the human body
While HFCS serves as a cheap and readily available sweetener, it has also been linked to the epidemic of obesity that has plagued the world since shortly after HFCS was introduced to the market. Though there are likely many causes for the obesity crisis, this discussion will focus on the effects of HFCS on the human body. Among other things, the direct effect it has on weight gain as well as the body’s intake of calories from other sources.
The most basic and most obvious effect of HFCS on the human body is weight gain. A study conducted by M.G. Tordoff and A. M. Alleva (1990) focused primarily on this effect of HFCS when compared to a group drinking aspartame sweetened soda and a group drinking no soda. This study found that while aspartame sweetener had little effect on weight and, if anything decreased it, the effects of HFCS were considerably bleaker for consumers. Over the course of the three-week study, males drinking HFCS soda gained approximately 0.5 kilograms and females gained approximately 1.0 kilograms. During this same period, the females who drank no soda lost a considerable amount of weight, around 0.4 kilograms and both males and females who drank aspartame sweetened soda lost weight. The researchers do add a qualification to this last result, however, that the weight loss was just as likely because the subjects were no longer drinking HFCS for the test period as much as from the aspartame sweetener (Tordoff, 1990, p. 965). From simple weight gain over time, it is evident that HFCS causes weight gain in both men and women and the removal of it from the diet can cause weight loss.
The role of sugar
Another effect noted by this study was the effect of HFCS consumption on the dietary intake of sugar. It was noted that the subjects who drank both aspartame sweetened soda and HFCS sweetened soda consumed less sugar in their diets. Their overall consumption of sugar calories remained the same because of the soda, but apparently having the soda resulted in less craving for other forms of sugar. The study is hesitant to explain this effect as they believe it would be understandable for overall dietary caloric intake to be reduced, but they are unclear as to why the dietary exclusion would be only sugar (Tordoff, 1990, p. 966). Common sense would explain this as a matter of taste. A person drinking a prescribed amount of soda would probably have less interest in sweets on a regular basis. What this means specifically for HFCS sweetened beverages, though, is that they replace a person’s craving for other, potentially less processed foods simply because of their flavor profiles.
A different article examined the specific effects that HFCS has on different organs in the body. Biologically speaking, HFCS is not as usable by the body as other forms of sugar. One of the most basic functions of sugar in the body is stimulating the production of insulin. HFCS stimulates much less insulin production than glucose which has a couple of key effects. For one thing, it can have a long-term debilitating effect on the body’s ability to produce insulin at all, possibly leading to diabetes. In the short-term, the decrease in insulin causes a person to want more food. Insulin in the nervous system is directly responsible for making a person crave less food. Insulin also stimulates the production of leptin in the body which also inhibits food cravings (Bray, 2004). This effect of HFCS consumption relates directly to the epidemic of obesity in that it means people eat more than they have to, just because their bodies don’t know to feel full.
weight gain and other problems of high fructose corn syrup
This effect goes further than the effect of HFCS on insulin, however. Glucose, the form of sugar that HFCS largely replaces, is absorbed into cells via insulin where it fuels the metabolism and sends signals to the brain that no more food is needed to provide that power. Since HFCS inhibits the production of insulin, any glucose that is consumed is less efficiently processed into metabolic fuel. Also, HFCS is absorbed into cells by a completely different chemical that is not present in all cells, particularly the pancreas and brain. Because of this interference and lower efficiency, HFCS does not provide the satisfaction signals that glucose does and it is a weaker fuel for the metabolism, lowering its overall rate (Bray, 2004). Not only does HFCS make a person feel less full, it is digested less efficiently and interferes with the digestion and metabolism of healthier nutrients.
The effects of HFCS both on general weight gain and on the specific functions of the body are clear and serious. Recently, the federal government is debating implementing limits on sugary drinks. It is not only an inferior alternative to natural sweeteners, but it actually interferes with the body’s ability to properly digest natural foods of all kinds. It even keeps the brain from receiving the satisfaction signals that would help keep a person from overeating. Despite these clear and unhealthy effects, it remains one of the most common ingredients in modern food production. And, as might be expected, the obesity rates continue to rise as well.
Bray, G. A., Nielsen, S. J., & Popkin, B. M. (2004). Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 79(4), 537-543. Retrieved November 11, 2012, from http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/79/4/537.full
Tordoff, M. G., & Alleva, A. M. (1990). Effect of drinking soda sweetened with aspartame or high-fructose corn syrup on food intake and body weight. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 51, 963-969. Retrieved November 11, 2012, from http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/51/6/963.full.pdf
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