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Does Fructose Make You Fat?

Most of us love sugar and we consume it in a variety of ways. And while we have heard about the evils of regular sugar, there is another common sweetener that is potentially even worse. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) lurks behind almost everything we eat and could be completely derailing our diet. HFCS has been linked to both type 2 diabetes and obesity and it is present in almost all soft drinks, which are the leading source of added sugar in our diet.

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), also known as Fructose-Glucose Syrup or High Fructose Maize Syrup, is a combination of fructose and glucose, which food manufacturers use to cut costs. It became a common ingredient, especially in sweetened beverages, starting in the 1970s when making HFCS became cheaper than using beet or cane sugar. It needs to be mentioned here that wide-scale replacement of regular sugar with HFCS is typical of North America and it has not happened in Europe where it is strictly regulated. Nonetheless, HFCS is considered to be generally safe, meaning that it has no known negative health effects.

The HFCS producers say their product is essentially the same as the sugar we put in our coffee but instead of beets or cane, it is made from corn. On the relative sweetness scale, however, sucrose sugar rates 100 and HFCS 120 to 140, depending on how it is formulated. The higher rating is due to the addition of fructose, which by itself is sweeter than sucrose.

In addition to adding a sweet taste to foods, HFCS blends more easily than other sweeteners in beverages, helps prevent freezer burn in foods like ice cream and makes baked goods such as dinner rolls and cookies brown and soft. Between that and its low cost, HFCS looks like a food manufacturer’s dream.

Despite the fact that both HFCS and sucrose contain four calories per gram, research names HFCS as the main culprit in causing modern-day obesity epidemic (not that sucrose would be harmless). It is hardly a coincidence that the beginning of the obesity epidemic in North America corresponds to the introduction of HFCS into the food supply. When you realize that the consumption of HFCS in the US has increased by 1,000% over the past forty or so years, it is not surprising that our waistlines have also expanded, though not by that much.

Research suggests that HFCS may trigger mechanisms promoting storage of body-fat. Fructose is more easily digestible than sucrose and, therefore, quickly converted to fat. This rapidly increases the levels of triglycerides in our bloodstream. Triglycerides happen to be the main constituents of vegetable oil and they are a type of fat easily stored as body fat. Thus, the more triglycerides we have in our bloodstream, the more fat we will store, which ultimately leads to weight gain.

When we consume HFCS instead of sucrose, our blood sugar level increases more rapidly and it becomes more difficult to control with medications in patients with diabetes. Moreover, some research even suggests that HFCS potentially increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

So, if you wish to lose a few inches of waistline, as the first step, swap soft drinks for water or mineral water, if you like, and replace candy, cookies and other sweet snacks with healthier tasty alternatives such as vegetables and fruit that is not too sweet (check out these tips on healthier eating habits).