Karen Chapman-Novakofski is a professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois.
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Consumers who pay attention to the news know it's hard to keep up with current thinking about food and nutrition. What's good for you this week might be bad for you next week, depending on the newest study. Consider, for example, changing views on coffee and butter. Karen Chapman-Novakofski, a professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois, discusses the latest food component to come under increased scrutiny, high fructose corn syrup.
Why is high fructose corn syrup suddenly in the news?
Media attention probably has increased because of the link between sweetened beverages and obesity. A 12-ounce can of cola sweetened with high fructose corn syrup contains about 140 calories, for example. Drinking two of these every day could cause a 1-pound gain every two weeks - or about 26 pounds in a year. The key is to keep the calories you eat balanced with the physical activity you do.
What is high fructose corn syrup, what foods is it in, and is it unsafe?
Corn starch is processed and refined to yield corn syrup, which is a mixture of maltodextrin, and dextrose (glucose). Treatment changes the glucose into fructose at a 42 percent, 50 percent, and 90 percent level. All are termed high fructose corn syrup.
Researchers examined the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys to determine the source and amount of consumption of high fructose corn syrup products. Soft drinks and fruit drinks were the sources of most high fructose corn syrup: about 40 calories per person per day in 2004. Sports drinks and sweetened tea may also contain high fructose corn syrup, as well as some desserts. The term "added sugars" includes high fructose corn syrup as well as sucrose (table sugar), honey, or glucose. In 2004 added sugars accounted for 32 percent of carbohydrate intake. The Institute of Medicine recommends no more than 25 percent of carbohydrates come from added sugars because those with higher intakes tend to have a diet poorer in other nutrients.
The American Medical Association (2008) and the American Dietetic Association (2008) issued statements that after reviewing the evidence, they found that high fructose corn syrup does not appear to be more likely than other added sugars in promoting obesity.
Are there alternatives to high fructose corn syrup that are healthier, or are all sugars to be avoided?
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans states that "Although the body's response to sugars does not depend on whether they are naturally present in a food or added to the food, added sugars supply calories but few or no nutrients." Reading the food label can provide a lot of information about the added sugars in a product. Added sugars include brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose, sugar, and syrup. The Institute of Medicine recommends these totaled should be no more than 25 percent of a person's total caloric intake. The "sugars" line on the Nutrition Facts Label includes both naturally occurring and added sugars. If you are concerned and want to limit your intake of added sugars, choose foods that don't contain those ingredients listed above in the first few ingredients of the ingredient list.