Have you been wondering what all this commotion is about High Fructose Corn Syrup? Read on to find out.
What is High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)?
I’ve been hearing a lot about high fructose corn syrup being the enemy. As I’ve shared before, when somebody points out that something – be it proteins, carbs, fats, or alcohol – is bad for you, it comes back to that story about Goldilocks and the three bears. “Not too hot, not too cold… not too big, not too small… just right.” Not too much of anything… you should be okay. And the same thing is true with high fructose corn syrup.
So what is this high fructose corn syrup stuff anyway? First of all it’s corn syrup. The sugars are extracted from corn so it’s got a high amount of fructose. Different manufacturers have variations of how much fructose the syrup has. It usually goes from 30 to maybe 75-80% of the sugar inside the corn being fructose, and these variations depend on how sweet they want it to be. So basically when the fructose concentration gets higher, it gets called high fructose corn syrup.
Now this is used in all kinds of baked goods and candies. And it’s more popularly known to be found inside sodas and even sports drinks, so that’s probably why it gets this bad reputation. I guess most people don’t understand the biochemistry of what sugars actually are, and how our body even uses them, so hopefully I can help you understand a lot more through this article.
What are these Different Kinds of Sugars?
First off, what is fructose? Fructose is a sugar found inside of a piece of fruit. It’s the type of sugar that’s inside those plants that make them delicious, so that they’re tempting treats for animals to come eat them and spread that plant’s seeds in other places.
From a chemical standpoint, the high fructose corn syrup found inside sodas is just the same exact thing as sucrose, or table sugar found inside baked goods and sweets. They’re essentially glucose plus fructose just like what’s inside a banana or a cookie.
Sucrose or table sugar is that white stuff that you might put inside your coffee to make it taste better. It is a disaccharide, which means it has two sugars combined – glucose and fructose. Glucose and fructose separately are both monosaccharides. When they combine, there’s a chemical bond between them and that forms the table sugar or sucrose.
Now this same thing is found inside of fruits and high fructose corn syrup, just in different combinations. The difference between high fructose corn syrup and sucrose is that in HFCS, glucose and fructose aren’t bonded together – they’re just two monosaccharides floating inside that suspension in the syrup. But other than that, there’s basically no difference – high fructose corn syrup is just a liquid version of table sugar.
Does this mean Having Too Much Fruit is Bad?
So is there any difference between these different fruits and in the concentrations of the sugars or fructose?
Different fruits have slightly different amounts more or less. The concern that most people have is they think they have to be careful with certain fruits and that these will make them gain weight. But in reality you’re not gonna mess up and gain a bunch of weight eating fruit.
That fruit is mostly water and fiber with some sugar in it. The problem comes when you throw these into a juicer – it pulls all the fiber out and just leaves the concentrated sugar water behind it. That fiber helps you feel fuller so that you can’t eat too much. That’s why you can’t eat too many apples – it easily makes you feel full.
In order to get to the point where there’s too much fructose that it starts to have a negative effect, you’d need to consume more than 50 grams in a sitting or in one meal. That’s maybe like seven or more apples worth of sugar! So you’re not gonna mess up with fruit, no matter what fruit it is.
So if your goal is fat loss, err towards the side of whole foods as opposed to processed foods. You’re not going to mess up with whole foods because of the fiber and water. But if you drink too many sodas or sports drinks, because they are concentrated and processed forms of sugar, it can have a negative effect on you if you have too much. So again, it’s the amount that is the issue here. Just don’t have too much. If you don’t consume more than 50 grams a sitting you should be fine.
How About Sports drinks?
When you consume fructose, it takes a little bit longer for your body to break it down. It has to go to the liver – glucose doesn’t have to do that; it just goes down to your stomach and intestines, gets absorbed in the blood stream, then shoots to your muscles to be available for use. But for fructose, it has to go through a different pathway to go to your liver and then it also goes a different way before being pushed into the cells, so it’s a little bit slower.
So if for instance, you’ve been fasting for a long period of time but you still want to get some high intensity workout done, a sports drink would be a great idea for you. Drink it 20-30 minutes before the workout to prevent getting lightheaded due to low blood sugar. Sports drinks have multiple sugars as their ingredients because when you combine glucose and fructose, it gets absorbed in your system more quickly, and your body can immediately use those sugars for that exercise.
Are Fruits Better Sources of Sugar than Sodas or Sports Drinks?
So, I’ve mentioned before that sodas, sports drinks, bananas, and cookies all basically have the same type of sugar. Does it matter which one you have before your workout?
We now know that what and how much we consume should be based on our lifestyle and activity. For instance if you’re not an active person and you have a sedentary job and lifestyle, you probably don’t have a high need for a lot of carbohydrates. But for those who have more strenuous jobs or regular workouts, they probably need to have sugars available for those activities.
That means you’d want to plan or purposefully think before you eat a really complex carbohydrate like a potato, since it takes a while to get digested – about an hour and a half. But if you have a simpler sugar source like a piece of fruit, maybe 45 minutes before you work out, it gets absorbed a lot faster. Now if you consume a really processed food or drink like a soda, you can immediately have it as a pre-workout beverage to get those simple sugars into your bloodstream and have the muscles ready to do that workout.
So it’s just based on how processed your sugar source is. If it’s less processed it takes longer to absorb, while if it’s more processed it’s quickly absorbed. You can have that sports drink or soda 20 minutes before you workout, but if you’re eating a more complex carbohydrate, you’ll need to wait maybe an hour and a half before you work out.
Ultimately, your muscle cells don’t look at where the sugar came from, whether it’s from a cookie, a banana, or kale.
So, high-fructose corn syrup is NOT gonna kill you. It is neither good nor bad; it depends on how much you consume and what you consume it for.
It is not bad to be able to eat what you like from time to time. Take me for example; I have lost 45 pounds in a little over three months. But I still eat pizza and have some beer or sodas, because I know that to sustain my diet long term I need to still be able to have what I like. If not, I’m just gonna fall off that plan and bounce back to my previous weight and habits. As I have shared in the past, a diet and lifestyle change needs to be sustainable for you.
- High-fructose corn syrup is NOT a bad guy. As always, if you don’t have too much, you should be okay.
- Fruits, baked goods, sodas, and sports drinks all basically have the same type of sugar which is fructose. It all comes down to how quick it gets absorbed in the body – the more processed it is, the quicker it gets absorbed.
- Tailor your meals to your lifestyle and activity. If you need a quick source of sugar before a workout, you can drink a soda or sports drink; but if you need to feel full for longer, consume a more complex source of sugar like a potato.