High-Fructose Corn Syrup: Should You Avoid It to Lose Weight?

January 6, 2011

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sodaYou may have been hearing more about the possible negative health effects of high-fructose corn syrup or seeing food labels that declare, No High-Fructose Corn Syrup, and wondered if dropping this ingredient from your diet can help you shed weight.

The answer is both yes and no. Yes, you can and should try to eliminate high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) from your diet as much as possible, but no, doing that alone probably won’t solve your struggle with excess pounds.

Let me explain first by starting with what HFCS is and where it comes from. HFCS was unheard of until the early 1970s when researchers developed a way to extract sugar from corn as a method to use up an overabundant corn supply. It all started with a new farm policy in the United States that promised to pay farmers a set price for corn no matter how much they grew. Around the same time, advances in farming equipment, new synthetic fertilizers, and hybrid strains of corn suddenly allowed farmers to get at least four times as much corn per acre.

The combination of guaranteed sales, larger plantings, and much higher yields led to a ready and easy supply of corn-based ingredients. This then spurred the development of a whole new industry based upon inexpensive and nutritionally empty but calorie-rich junk food products. Companies started to replace cane sugar, a naturally occurring substance, with the cheaper synthetic corn-based sweetener to cut costs and increase profits in all kinds of foods from soda pop to ketchup.

Like sugar, HFCS contains no nutritional value but does contain calories. Gram for gram the two are equivalent, weighing in at 4 calories per gram each.

Some research suggests a link between an increase in illnesses like diabetes and heart disease and the creation of this super sweet substance. Other experts claim the body processes HFCS differently than sugar, and that it could be contributing to the increasing obesity rates.

Princeton researchers, for example, said in a recent study that rats who consumed high-fructose corn syrup gained 48 percent more weight than rats who ate regular sugar, even though the calorie counts were the same.

Do you need HFCS in your diet for healthy, balanced nutrition? Obviously not! Even so, according to recent studies, the average American currently eats 63 pounds of HFCS a year. That is equal to 114,156 calories, or the equivalent of 33 pounds of weight gain!

So cutting high-fructose corn syrup (and other forms of empty calories) out of your diet is a smart strategy. And if you currently consume a lot of foods and beverages containing HFCS (like soda pop), cutting down will lead to a reduced calorie intake and weight loss.

But at the same time, don’t be fooled by clever marketing into thinking that just because a food doesn’t contain high-fructose corn syrup, it’s healthy or low-calorie. You still need to check calories and suggested serving sizes and factor these figures into your overall daily intake.

Dr. Michael Kaplan

Founder and Chief Medical Officer

The Center for Medical Weight Loss

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