High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a type of sweetener that is used in many different foods. As its name suggests, it is made from corn and has a high concentration of fructose. HCFS gained popularity with manufacturers in the 1970’s as a cheaper alternative to sucrose. Sucrose is a disaccharide composed of one molecule of fructose bound to one molecule of glucose. HCFS is composed of large amounts of free fructose. Glucose, when absorbed, travels to the pancreas and stimulates the release of insulin which is used by other tissues to absorb glucose. Glucose is not absorbed well by most tissues unless insulin is present. Glucose also travels to the brain where it initiates signals that reduce appetite. Fructose does not stimulate the release of insulin b the pancreas and does not initiate satiety signals in the brain, because these tissues lack the ability to absorb fructose.
Fructose is also sweeter than glucose or sucrose which decreases the sensitivity of taste receptors. This results in increased consumption of sweet foods. HFCS is used in large amounts in sweetened beverages such as fruit juices and soda. These beverages are consumed in large amounts by adults and children. In children, these beverages and the HFCS they contain can result in metabolic changes that result in childhood obesity. In adults and children, the intake of high calorie beverages can result in a caloric intake that is not compensated for by reduced consumption of solid foods resulting in excess calories and fat deposition.
Excess fructose consumption can also result in high levels of blood triglycerides and cholesterol. Fructose is absorbed directly by the liver causing release of triglycerides into the blood stream. It is not surprising that researchers are examining the link between the consumption of HFCS and the rise in obesity over the past 30 years. The worst part is that HFCS is almost impossible to avoid because it is used ubiquitously as a sweetener in processed foods. Some companies are noticing the demand for foods without added HCFS and are releasing products with sucrose or glucose as the sweetener. Hopefully this trend continues as people realize the potential danger in the consumption of HFCS.