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Here’s the Bitter Truth About a Popular American Sweetener

By Sara Butler

High Fructose Corn Syrup

It’s harvest time in some parts of the country. And a lot of that harvest includes corn. There are all kinds of products made from corn, everything from toothpaste (yes, toothpaste!) to hair products to salad dressing contain products that are derived from corn. One of these products, high fructose corn syrup, is in many foods too.

Used as a sweetener, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is not great for you in high amounts. That’s why it’s important to understand what it does to you as a part of your diet as well as the products it’s found in so that you can keep an eye on how much you’re getting.

Here are some of the ways a diet high in HFCS can impact your health and some common products you need to watch out for.

How HFCS Impacts You

When you eat a diet that contains large amounts of HFCS, you may be setting yourself up for issues. Some of the reasons it’s bad for you include:

It elevates the amount of fructose in your diet - Your body breaks down sugar into glucose, something that every cell in your body can use as a source of energy. Corn syrup is 50 percent glucose and 50 percent fructose, and the fructose has to be converted into glucose or glycogen in order to be used. Because the body uses fructose differently, a diet high in it can cause health issues.

It impacts the health of your liver - If you eat a lot of HFCS, then you risk developing a higher than normal amount of liver fat, which can lead to fatty liver disease. This can be traced back to how fructose is metabolized by the body.

It can increase body weight - Many long-term studies of the intake of HFCS have found that it plays a key role in weight gain. It is thought that because fructose promotes the accumulation of fat in the body, it also puts you at a higher risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.

Consumption has been linked to diabetes - If you eat too much HFCS in your diet, then it can lead to issues such as insulin resistance and other metabolic syndromes that can contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes.

It puts you at high risk of other chronic health issues - It’s thought that HFCS is also linked to inflammation, and chronic inflammation has been linked to serious chronic health issues such as cancer and heart disease.

It’s not good for you - HFCS has zero nutrients, it’s simply empty calories. That means it is taking the place of other important nutrients in your diet.

Common Foods Containing HFCS

HFCS can be sneaky. It’s cheap and so it’s used in a variety of products as a sweetener that you may not expect it to be -- and a lot of foods you would expect. Some of the most common places you’ll find HFCS include:

Candy - Halloween is right around the corner and if you look at the ingredients of any one of the candies stocking the shelves right now you’re sure to find HFCS high on the list.

Packaged baked goods - Cupcakes, cakes, cookies, and pastries all have one thing in common: The use of HFCS to make them.

Soda - Another high fructose offender is soda. Of course, consumption of too much soda has been linked to a variety of health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, so you should really keep an eye on how much soda you drink and consume it sparingly.

Juice - You can find juices that say they don’t have any added sweeteners but be careful to look out for HFCS on their ingredient list. Most juice drinks will include corn syrup.

Fast food - Highly processed foods are loaded with things that aren’t good for you, which is why you find high amounts of HFCS in fast food options. Be on the lookout for sauces and sweets that contain it.

Sauces - Sauces and condiments may not scream HFCS to you, but you may be surprised how many contain it. Everything from barbeque sauce to ketchup can contain this ingredient.

Breakfast - Savory breakfast items are not excluded from the use of HFCS. Any frozen breakfast item you find may very well contain it, so be on the lookout.

Jams and preserves - To be clear, fruit by itself does contain fructose, but it’s not necessarily bad for you because it’s naturally occurring and comes with other nutrients in the fruit. However, store-bought fruit jams and preserves, while they may naturally contain fructose, also usually have HFCS added.

Bread - Bread may be one of the last places you’d expect to find HFCS, but it’s in a lot of the mass-produced bread you find on the market.

The smart approach to reducing high fructose corn syrup in your diet is to simply cut down on how much added sugar you eat. Doing that can improve your overall health and make you feel better too! And that should be some pretty sweet news.

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