High Fructose Corn Syrup vs Sugar

High Fructose Corn Syrup vs Sugar

We all know that too much sugar can be bad. And for some people – diabetics in particular – most sugar can be quite harmful to the body.  In that case, you’re probably reading lots of labels to try to make sure you’re not getting too much added sugar.  But it can get confusing when it comes to high fructose corn syrup and sugar.  Is there a difference and is one better than the other? 

History of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)?

Like its name implies, HFCS is made from corn.  The corn, grown specifically for this purpose, is grown, picked, milled and turned into cornstarch.  Using a process called hydrolysis; the cornstarch is turned into corn syrup.  This is then turned into fructose, or a sweetener, using an enzymatic process. 

In the 1960’s and the 1970’s, the use of HCFS increased dramatically due to the shelf stability and the economical value in comparison with other sugars.  At that time, corn was highly subsidized and imported sugar was much more expensive. 

Due to the highly processed nature of HCFS, many critics believe that this product is a major contributor to the drastic increase of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease we’ve seen since that time. 

What is sugar?

Sugar, the white crystallized sweetener we put in our coffee and use to make cookies, can be made from either sugar cane or sugar beets.  After the sugar cane or sugar beets are harvested, the juice is extracted and boiled down until it is crystallized.  At the end, it is refined and cleaned to produce the white sugar you can purchase at the store today. 

Like HFCS, sugar is about 50% fructose and 50% glucose, although HFCS can be up to 55% fructose. 

What about nutrition?

There are plenty of conflicting reports as to whether sugar is processed by the body differently than HFCS.  One side states that they are chemically and nutritionally the same and the other side states that HFCS is much worse than regular sugar due to its highly processed nature. Scientific studies are not conclusive enough to stop the debate. 

One of the biggest issues that both sides do agree on is that most people eat way too much refined sugars.  Refined sugars are those that are highly processed and include white table sugar and HFCS.  The reason is because they are high in fructose. 

Fructose is not necessarily a bad thing.  It is the primary sugar in fruits.  However, unlike fruits which have additional fiber content to help the body process the sugar properly and at a slower pace, refined fructose hits the liver and is processed much quicker. 

Higher levels of refined sugars in the diet are linked to higher incidences of fatty liver disease, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and obesity.  That’s why it’s important that if you do decide to remove HFCS from your diet that you also need to remove other refined sugars. These are on the label as cane sugar, sugar or sucralose.