A look at HFCS safety

Monday, 09 July, 2018

A look at HFCS safety

Although little used in Australia and New Zealand, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) almost invariably brings with it debate about its safety. HFCS is made from corn starch that has been processed by the enzyme glucose isomerase to convert some of its glucose into fructose. As fructose is 1.7 times sweeter than sucrose, manufacturers can use roughly 60% less fructose than sucrose to get the same sweetness.

HFCS is used quite extensively in the US and other countries which grow a lot of maize. Being a pumpable liquid with the sugars already dissolved makes HFCS very easy for processors to use.

HFCS is available in many options that contain variable amounts of the simple sugars glucose and fructose in unconnected forms. This means that the two sugars are present as monosaccharides. In comparison, sucrose also contains glucose and fructose, but in this case the sugars are present in a connected form in a ratio of exactly one-to-one as a disaccharide.

HFCS-55 is currently used in 93% of soft drinks in the US. It’s sugar content is about 55% fructose, 45% glucose plus a smattering of glucose double units and glucose triple units. The fructose content increases the apparent sweetness of beverages so manufacturers use less than they would of sucrose and so save a considerable amount of money.

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) has been asked by various parties whether these sweeteners, which contain a high proportion of the free monosaccharide (simple sugar) fructose, pose a particular risk to health as compared to other sweeteners such as sucrose (household sugar, beet sugar, cane sugar).

In the variants of HFCS that are frequently used at the present time, the two monomers glucose and fructose are present in roughly comparable amounts; with respect to the fructose level, the difference as compared to sucrose is relatively low. In this case, it can be expected that there are no differences or no significant differences between HFCS and sucrose from a nutritional perspective and that their health assessments are thus also similar. However, the prerequisite for this is that the intake level of added sugars does not increase significantly overall.

If HFCS variants with a significantly higher proportion of fructose are to be added to processed foods, it must be pointed out that the consumption of high amounts of fructose can have adverse effects on the metabolism. In concrete terms, it can contribute to metabolic syndrome as well as lipometabolic disorders, fatty liver, obesity and diabetes mellitus type 2. In addition, there are known intolerances to fructose.

It is considered scientifically proven that regular excessive consumption of sugar added to foods (including added fructose) is detrimental to health and should be reduced. Consumers should ensure that their daily intake of added sugar does not exceed 10% of their total daily intake of energy from food, including beverages.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/urbans78

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