Volume 10, Number 11                                    September 1, 2007

The Farmer


Beware of High-fructose Corn Syrup

by Dr. Ridgely Abdul Muímin Muhammad

According to an August 23, 2007 report from the American Chemical Society researchers have found new evidence that soft drinks sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) may contribute to the development of diabetes, particularly in children. In the current study, Chi-Tang Ho, Ph.D., conducted chemical tests among 11 different carbonated soft drinks containing HFCS. He found 'astonishingly high' levels of reactive carbonyls in those beverages. These undesirable and highly-reactive compounds associated with "unbound" fructose and glucose molecules are believed to cause tissue damage, says Ho, a professor of food science at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. By contrast, reactive carbonyls are not present in table sugar, whose fructose and glucose components are "bound" and chemically stable, the researcher notes.

HFCS is a sweetener found in many foods and beverages, including non-diet soda pop, baked goods, and condiments. It is has become the sweetener of choice for many food manufacturers because it is considered more economical, sweeter and more easy to blend into beverages than table sugar. The long standing boycott of Cuban cane sugar combined with the annual corn subsidy to U.S. farmers of over $10 billion explains why sugar costs more than corn fructose.

The figures from the USDA for 2003 are that the average world price of refined sugar is 11 cents per pound compared to 28 cents in the U.S.--more than twice as much due to subsidies and import quotas. Meanwhile, the price of HFCS is 14 cents per pound. However, corn prices are expected to rise because of corn increased use as a source of energy through ethanol production. This price rise plus new evidence of the dangers of HFCS may finally force the processing industry to cut back on its widespread use.

The process for making the sweetener high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) out of corn was developed in the 1970s. Use of HFCS grew rapidly, from less than three million short tons in 1980 to almost 8 million short tons in 1995. During the late 1990s, use of sugar actually declined as it was eclipsed by HFCS. Today Americans consume more HFCS than sugar.

From zero, the average consumption of HFCS in the U.S. has risen to over 60 pounds per person per year, on average. Starting in the early 1970ís, there has been a dramatic rise in the U.S. in the rate of obesity and its related ailments including type-2 diabetes and heart disease. This alarming development coincides almost exactly with the introduction and subsequent ramp-up of consumption of High Fructose Corn Syrup. An estimated 16 million Americans have type-2 diabetes, making it the sixth leading cause of death overall. Studies have linked a high intake of refined carbohydrates such as fructose with a high "glycemic index" to the development of diabetes.

The processing industry argues that fructose is just another form of sugar and does no more damage than sugar. However, High Fructose Corn Syrup is an extremely refined version of the fructose naturally occurring in nature. High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is produced by processing corn starch to yield glucose, and then processing the glucose to produce a high percentage of fructose. Three different enzymes, two of which have been genetically modified, are needed to break down cornstarch, which is composed of chains of glucose molecules of almost infinite length, into the simple sugars glucose and fructose.

A team of investigators at the USDA, led by Dr. Meira Field, compared the effects of sugar and fructose on laboratory rats according to the www.longlife.com article entitled "Should You Boycott High Fructose Corn Syrup?" This article points out that sucrose is composed of glucose and fructose. When sugar is given to rats in high amounts, the rats develop multiple health problems, especially when the rats were deficient in certain nutrients, such as copper.

The researchers wanted to know whether it was the fructose or the glucose moiety that was causing the problems. So they repeated their studies with two groups of rats, one given high amounts of glucose and one given high amounts of fructose. The glucose group was unaffected but the fructose group had disastrous results. The male rats did not reach adulthood. They had anemia, high cholesterol and heart hypertrophy--that means that their hearts enlarged until they exploded. They also had delayed testicular development. Dr. Field explains that fructose in combination with copper deficiency in the growing animal interferes with collagen production. In a nutshell, the little bodies of the rats just fell apart. The females were not so affected, but they were unable to produce live young.

"The medical profession thinks fructose is better for diabetics than sugar," says Dr. Field, "but every cell in the body can metabolize glucose. However, all fructose must be metabolized in the liver. The livers of the rats on the high fructose diet looked like the livers of alcoholics, plugged with fat and cirrhotic."

Going back to the research done by Chi-Tang Ho, his group is also probing the mechanisms by which carbonation increases the amount of reactive carbonyls formed in sodas containing HFCS. They note that non-carbonated fruit juices containing HFCS have one-third the amount of reactive carbonyl species found in carbonated sodas with HFCS, while non-carbonated tea beverages containing high-fructose corn syrup have only about one-sixth the levels of carbonyls found in regular soda.