Ingredient Watch: High-Fructose Corn Syrup
High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) was introduced in the late 1970’s. Since its introduction, it has found its way into thousands of sweet beverages and foods.
So what exactly is high-fructose corn syrup? Well contrary to its name, it is not high in fructose. At the time when HFCS was first developed, the only sweetener in corn syrups was glucose; none contained fructose. So at the time, the name was fitting. But when compared to table sugar (sucrose), HFCS is not at all “high” in fructose. Its composition is nearly identical to table sugar (50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose). HFCS is made up of either 42 percent or 55 percent fructose, the remaining sugars being primarily glucose and some higher sugars.
It is used by manufacturers primarily because it is cheap and maintains the sweetness of natural sugar. HFCS is used in many soft cookies and snack bars because it maintains their soft texture by retaining moisture and resist crystallization after baking. Breads, cakes and breakfast cereals contain HFCS as well because it is a “reducing sugar” that gives flavor and “browning” to these baked goods. Many frozen foods contain HFCS to reduce freezer burn. It also lengthens shelf life, so you will find HFCS in many canned fruits.
Is there anything threatening about this sweetener? Well, fructose is metabolized differently then natural sugar. It “appears to behave more like fat with respect to the hormones involved in body weight regulation,” explains Peter Havel, associate professor of nutrition at the University of California, Davis. “Fructose doesn’t stimulate insulin secretion. It doesn’t increase leptin production or suppress production of ghrelin. That suggests that consuming a lot of fructose, like consuming too much fat, could contribute to weight gain.”
Studies are being conducted debating whether HFCS is a factor in the US’ obesity epidemic. It is not necessarily the HFCS that is causing obesity; it is the amount we are consuming. As of 2001, Americans consumed almost 63 pounds of HFCS per year. HFCS is hard to escape, but if taken in moderation and combined with physical activity; you can continue to live a healthy lifestyle.
Red Dye 40:
Red 40 is a common food dye that is found in products like kool-aide, flavored sodas, chewing gum, candy and children’s vitamins. When Red 40 was first approved by the FDA, there were a few claims stating that it caused tumors and cancer. Later studies proved these claims to be false. However, it appears likely that Red 40 may have a negative effect on young children who consume it.
Consumable products often include high amounts of sugar in addition to Red 40; thus it is difficult to determine whether a child’s behavior or other reactions are due to the sugar content or the food dye. Both may cause similar effects; but it has been shown that Red 40 has the capacity to such results when sugar is not present. Children who have been diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) generally have significant improvements of their behavior and ability to concentrate when artificial additives such as red food dye is removed from their diet. Red 40 can also affect adults; it is a common trigger for migraines. It can also cause an upset stomach and make you feel uncomfortable and jittery.
Xylitol is a natural sweetener. It is used most commonly as a sugar substitute. It is a naturally occurring sweetener that is found in the fibers of various berries, corn husks, mushrooms and oats. It can also be extracted from corn fiber, birch, raspberries and plums. Xylitol has a sweetness factor close to that of sucrose.
Most commonly xylitol is found in chewing gum. And because xylitol is a “tooth friendly” sugar, it does not encourage tooth decay and studies have shown that it may aide in repairing minor dental caries. Numerous other studies have shown that Xylitol may prevent ear infections and even improve bone density.
Xylitol has no known toxicity and is a safe and healthy alternative to ordinary sweeteners and sugar substitutes.