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Cane Sugar vs High Fructose Corn Syrup: How They Differ


Cane sugar and high-fructose corn syrup both sweeten food, add calories to our diet, and, in large amounts, are harmful to our health.

What differentiates the two sugars is how they break down during digestion and affect metabolism and hormone balance.

Where HFCS Comes From

High-fructose corn syrup is a manufactured food product extracted from corn stalks. The exact method used to do this is a well-kept secret, but we know it involves a chemical enzymatic process. The result is a sugar compound having a structure not found in the natural world.

Sugars and Metabolism

Sucrose, or regular cane sugar, is made of one molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose – each the same size (a 50-50 ratio) – and tightly joined by a chemical bond. In the digestive tract, it takes time for enzymes to break the bond between the two molecules. Gradually, the glucose and fructose molecules separate and enter the bloodstream to be used for energy.

Though HFCS is also made of a glucose and a fructose molecule, the structure is different. The fructose molecule is larger, making the fructose to glucose ratio 55-45, and the two molecules are not bound together.

  1. Because there is no chemical bond in HFCS, when we consume it, no digestion is needed to separate the glucose from the fructose. The sugars are immediately absorbed into the bloodstream.
  2. The fructose, which is sweeter than glucose, goes immediately to the liver and causes it to produce triglycerides (fats) and cholesterol. Over time, this can lead to a type of iver damage known as “fatty liver,” a condition already affecting about 70 million people.
  3. The rapidly absorbed glucose from HFCS triggers unnatural spikes in the body’s production of insulin, a hormone involved in fat storage, and the body’s ability to use sugar for energy.

Fast-track to Obesity and Disease

Although too much cane sugar is damaging to our health, HCFS seems to create a fast track to sugar-related health problems.

The quick absorption of glucose and fructose from HFCS leads to metabolic disturbances that trigger increases in weight, appetite, heart disease, diabetes, dementia, cancer, and other illnesses.

Plus, research done at the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute found that the unbound fructose in HFCS can poke holes in the intestinal lining, allowing toxic gut substances to enter the bloodstream. This happens because the fructose in HFCS requires extra energy to be absorbed by the gut, depleting the energy normally used to keep the intestinal lining strong.

The Real Issue: We Need Whole Foods

Sugar may be sugar outside the body, but once eaten, sugars differ from each other in how they are digested and absorbed. However, if you still believe HFCS is okay to consume, consider one more thing.

High-fructose corn syrup is an inexpensive sweetener. Most foods containing HFCS are nutritionally-depleted processed products, often loaded with artificial ingredients and empty calories. All of us, if we wish to maintain good health, need to curb our sugar intake and eat whole, fresh foods –nature’s genius mix of minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, fiber, and phytonutrients.

Source: Dr. Mark Hyman
Photo credit: anyjazz65 at flickr