Is sugar really better than high-fructose corn syrup (HCFS)?

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No. There’s been a lot of press in recent years concerning the abundance of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in our food and beverages and the detrimental effect it has had on our overall health. However, while it may seem that natural sugar is better for you than high-fructose corn syrup, the truth is that neither is healthy; it’s kind of like saying chewing tobacco is better for you than cigarettes.

Understanding why this is true is actually pretty easy once you know the difference, or lack thereof, between your average table sugar and HFCS.

Our bodies need a form of sugar for energy, and we get that in the form of naturally occurring glucose in many of the foods we eat, like potatoes, pasta, bread, rice, fruits and lots more. Table sugar, though, is not glucose; it’s sucrose.

Sucrose’s chemical makeup is 50% glucose and 50% fructose. High-fructose corn syrup is about 45% glucose and 55% fructose. So high-fructose corn syrup is basically just 5% worse.

One of the real benefits of the movement against high-fructose corn syrup has been a reduction in its consumption, or at least raised awareness of its prevalence and effects. However, this reduction can be dangerous if people start to infer that, since regular sugar is more natural than HCFS, it’s a healthy alternative. Sugar consumption goes up as a result, causing all sorts of health problems.

Either in HFCS or table sugar, you are ingesting a lot of fructose. But why is fructose so bad anyway? Well, fructose, for one, is much more likely to be stored as fat. Part of the reason for this is that fructose has to be sent to the liver first before it can be utilized whereas glucose can be metabolized immediately by all of the cells of your body. This puts added strain on your liver and leads to other problems, like raised insulin resistance and reduced insulin efficiency.

Your body also reacts quite differently to fructose than glucose. When glucose is in your body, other hormones react to it and turn off the “I’m hungry” signal and turn on the “I’m full” signal in your brain. Fructose doesn’t result in this signaling, meaning you can keep eating without feeling satisfied, or full. That’s bad for a diet, but it’s even worse when you think about how fructose is already affecting your liver.

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