We’ve seen the enemy and it is HFCS.

by Denis Faye - The Nutrition Nerd | April 2, 2010

For years, I’ve sneered at conspiracy junkies who claimed that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) was worse for you than common table sugar. “Sugar is sugar is sugar,” I’d declare. They all make you fat if abused.

Well, I was wrong. In a recent study, a Princeton University research team led by psychology professor Bart Hoebel (or “Bart’s Angels” as I call them) fed two sets of rats sucrose and HFCS. As it turns out, the corn syrup rats got much fatter.

The team have a couple theories as to why this happened. Here’s the one I find most credible:

As a result of the manufacturing process for high-fructose corn syrup, the fructose molecules in the sweetener are free and unbound, ready for absorption and utilization. In contrast, every fructose molecule in sucrose that comes from cane sugar or beet sugar is bound to a corresponding glucose molecule and must go through an extra metabolic step before it can be utilized.

This creates a fascinating puzzle. The rats in the Princeton study became obese by drinking high-fructose corn syrup, but not by drinking sucrose. The critical differences in appetite, metabolism and gene expression that underlie this phenomenon are yet to be discovered, but may relate to the fact that excess fructose is being metabolized to produce fat, while glucose is largely being processed for energy or stored as a carbohydrate, called glycogen, in the liver and muscles.

This is both fascinating and terrifying. It’s fascinating because I don’t know how Natalie Portman, who I assume is the woman in front and on the left, has time to attend Princeton with her busy film career and all. It’s terrifying because HFCS completely dominates the American diet. According to the Princeton press release, the average American eats 60 pounds of the stuff annually.

So the next time you’re about to drink a vial of syrupy orange liquid handed to you by a sexy grad student, make sure to ask what’s sweetening it. Your hips will thank you.

Photo: Denise Applewhite (Seriously, this is the photo that Princeton wants the media to use.)

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8 thoughts on “We’ve seen the enemy and it is HFCS.

  1. A. Rice

    This is true about HFCS and its role in the American obesity problem, but overall it’s hair-splitting to go around, say, drinking Mexican Coke because it has 39 grams of cane sugar vs. 39 grams of HFCS. Both are crappy for you.

    Less refined sugar of any type = better.

    I cut refined sugar out of my diet for almost 2 months early this year and it really stabilized my blood sugar and made my thinking more clear.

  2. D Faye

    You’re right overall and that’s what I hammer into people’s heads most of the time, but I think this research is pretty interesting.

    Also, HFCS, as well as all other corn derivatives, is awful on so many other levels – environmentally, economically, ethically – so any tool we have to slam it is a good thing.

  3. screwdestiny

    Very interesting. Unfortunately, I don’t think most people care. If they did it wouldn’t be a chore to simply find BREAD that didn’t have HFCS in it.

  4. D Faye

    Interesting. Thanks, michm. I’ll address this on Monday with a proper post. That’s the thing about writing a blog about these topics. Things are constantly shifting. I like to throw opinion and sarcasm in there because I think it makes the news more digestible and fun, but I sometimes think I should just post it and keep my opinion to myself because my opinion could be proven wrong in a matter of hours.

  5. Anonymous

    “Do your best and forget the rest,” right? 🙂

    I’ll look forward to reading your update.



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