We might not have heard of High fructose corn syrup or HFCS for short, but almost all of us have definitely consumed it and some us of us in dangerously high quantities. A corn based sweetener, HFCSis the sweetener of choice in our soft drinks, cookies, juices, biscuits and other processed food items. Each day, most adults consume about 12 teaspoons of HFCS. Teenagers, often with poor eating habits, can devour as much as 80 percent more HFCS than adults.

HFCS accounts for more than 40 percent of the caloric sweeteners added to foods and beverages. It is the main sweetener used in American soft drinks. HFCS has been around since 1970s.

What is HFCS?

High-fructose corn syrup is a liquid sweetener, which is made by changing the sugar (glucose) in cornstarch to fructose - another form of sugar. The end product is a combination of fructose and glucose. Food companies use HFCS because it is inexpensive, easy to transport and keeps foods moist. And because it is so sweet, it is cost effective for companies to use small quantities of HCFS in place of more expensive sweeteners or flavorings. And last but not the least, it increases the shelf life of products.

Are corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and fructose the same?

High fructose corn syrup and corn syrup are very different products with distinctly different functions. Corn syrup, which is mainly glucose, is not sweet. It is used primarily as a non-sweet thickener. High fructose corn syrup on the other hand is made of almost equal portions of fructose and glucose and is used as a sweetener. Fructose is a naturally occurring sweetener found in fruits, honey and even vegetables. Fructose in crystalline form has been widely used for the past 20 years as a nutritive sweetener in foods and beverages.

Is HFCS bad for health?

Long-term consumption of high-fructose corn syrup can lead to abnormal increases in body fat, especially in the abdomen, and a rise in circulating blood fats called triglycerides. It is linked to the childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes - conditions that can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease.

Is HFCS a natural sweetener?

HFCS is not a natural sweetener. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) categorically says that products containing HFCS cannot be considered 'natural' and should not be labeled so. . HFCS is highly processed and does not exist anywhere in nature. However, manufacturers sometimes play on the fact that HFCS is derived from corn and propagate it as a natural substance. HFCS is highly processed and does not exist anywhere in nature.

Which is worse for my health - HFCS or sugar?

HFCS is worse than sugar and leads to more weight gain for the same calorific intake! According to research done by the Princeton University, all sweeteners are not equal when it comes to weight gain. A study done by Princton showed that rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than those with access to table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same.

Where all is HFCS commonly used?

High-fructose corn syrup is found in a wide range of foods and beverages, including fruit juice, soda, cereal, bread, candy bars, yogurt, ketchup, mayonnaise, snacks, soups, spaghetti sauce, yogurt, luncheon meats and many condiments. On average, Americans consume 60 pounds of the sweetener per person every year. Even fruit juices labeled as 'natural' might contain HFCS.

How do I avoid having HFCS?

Start by reading food labels, avoiding fast food, processed food, soft drinks, canned and bottled beverages including fruit juices, and fruit flavoured drinks. Sometimes reading food labels or even going for 'natural' food items and drinks is not a fool proof way of avoiding HFCS. Foods and beverages can be labeled as "natural" even though they contain high fructose corn syrup, because fructose is a naturally occurring sugar. The word "organic" is heavily regulated, and basically, only foods labeled as 100% organic can be assumed to be HFCS-free.

So go for food/ drinks labeled organic. Choose fresh fruit rather than fruit juice or fruit-flavored drinks. Even 100 percent fruit juice has a high concentration of sugar. Choose fruit canned in its own juices instead of heavy syrup.