Wednesday, March 24, 2010

HFCS Makes You Fat(ter)

I'm sure you've seen the Corn Refiners Association's television ads in support of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), arguing that it's a "natural" product (albeit super-processed) that comes from corn (duh) and no worse for you than table sugar (which is like saying a piano dropped on your head is no worse for you than being hit by a car):

Surprisingly, when these ads started airing a year or two ago, many experts voiced agreement with the central premise of these commercials -- though they decried the overconsumption of both HFCS and regular old refined sugar. As noted nutritionist and author Marion Nestle put it:
"Lots of people think high-fructose corn syrup is the new trans fat. It isn't. ... Biochemically, it is about the same as table sugar (both have about the same amount of fructose and calories) but it is in everything and Americans eat a lot of it — nearly 60 lbs. per capita in 2006, just a bit less than pounds of table sugar. High-fructose corn syrup is not a poison, but eating less of any kind of sugar is a good idea these days and anything that promotes eating more is not."
The question of whether HFCS has been unfairly vilified has been around for years. But now, Princeton researchers have found that HFCS isn't as innocuous as Big Corn's commercials would have us think:
[In one study,] male rats given water sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup in addition to a standard diet of rat chow gained much more weight than male rats that received water sweetened with table sugar, or sucrose, in conjunction 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.
And that's not all:
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.
"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. "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."
But regardless of whether this study settles the debate, our best bet is to avoid both refined sugar and HFCS.