Since 1980, soft drink producers have favored HFCS over real sugar from cane or beets as a sweetener (although “Mexican Coke” made with cane sugar is still available in some stores, labeled “Refresco” and “Hecho en México”). Food processors have followed suit, and today, HFCS is found in thousands of products, including fast-food offerings, bread and baked goods, tomato-based sauces, breakfast cereal, fruit drinks, salad dressings, yogurt, canned soups, candy, and even medications.
Why has HFCS supplanted sugar (sucrose) from cane and beets in so many foods? The price and availability of sucrose, especially cane sugar—often grown near the equator—fluctuates wildly, whereas corn is the largest U.S. crop, and also the most subsidized.
Metabolic ProblemsHFCS’s links to obesity, insulin resistance, Type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure are so clear, the Cleveland Clinic actually advises people to “keep this sweetener out of your diet.” According to the Clinic’s Dr. Mark Hyman, who works in the Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine. “Fructose goes straight to your liver and starts a fat production factory” of triglycerides and cholesterol that raises the risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. HFCS “can even cause fibrosis or what we call cirrhosis,” Hyman wrote in an article on the Clinic’s website. HFCS can also cause a “leaky gut,” which triggers inflammation, weight gain, and Type 2 diabetes.
The faux terms have harmed consumers and producers of real sugar, the sugar groups said.
New Risks Linked to HFCSRecent research published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior identifies new potential risks linked to HFCS—and they aren't limited to metabolic derangement.
According to the authors, it's known that behavioral disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, and aggression, are linked to sugar intake and obesity, and the culprit might be high fructose factors. The authors suggest that high fructose intake activates “an evolutionary-based survival pathway” of fat storage and decreased energy expenditure that develops in animals to fight starvation or prepare for hibernation or long-distance migration. The effects in nonstarving humans may be deleterious, they hypothesize.
Specifically, high fructose and its metabolite uric acid likely induce a “foraging response that stimulates craving, impulsivity, risk taking, and aggression” in humans that can resemble ADHD—conditions that are characterized by decreased attention spans and increased locomotor activity, the researchers wrote.
The HFCS-Activated Survival PathwayDoes the theory of an activated survival pathway also explain HFCS’s notoriety for causing obesity and overeating? The answer is yes, according to the researchers.
“Fructose is unique among all nutrients in its ability to trigger a starvation-like signal even in the absence of true starvation. ... Specifically, fructose mimics a starvation-like state by dropping the energy (also known as adenosine triphosphate or ATP) in the cell during its metabolism,” they wrote.
“In addition, fructose stimulates hunger (via the induction of leptin resistance) and thirst (by causing a shift of water into the cell and raising serum osmolality). ... The net result is that fructose stimulates food and water intake, increases energy (fat and glycogen) stores, induces insulin resistance to preferentially provide glucose to the brain, increases blood pressure and reduces sodium losses, and decreases oxygen needs by reducing mitochondrial activity and relying more on glycolysis. Thus, fructose is the ideal energy storing fuel.”