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Is high-fructose corn syrup making you fat?

By Nicci Micco, June 3, 2009 - 11:36am

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Is high-fructose corn syrup making you fat?

As a nutrition editor, I hear a lot about the evils of high-fructose corn syrup—the sweetener that’s in everything from soda to pasta sauce. I’ve also seen the Corn Refiner Association’s commercials that say that HFCS is nutritionally the same as sugar. It’s hard to know what to believe.

So we went to the experts to get the real facts. In this first installment of a 5-part series, we investigate whether HFCS is a main culprit in the obesity epidemic, as some people say.

The HFCS/fat theory sounded logical in 2004, when an article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN) pointed out that from 1970 to 1990 Americans’ intake of HFCS increased by more than 1,000 percent and, during that same time, the proportion of Americans who were overweight or obese increased from about half to two-thirds.

But just a few months ago, when EatingWell contributing editor Joyce Hendley spoke with one of the study’s authors, Barry Popkin, Ph.D., director of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill’s Interdisciplinary Obesity Center, he told her that singling out HFCS turned out to be unjustified. (Is there really such thing as a healthful sugar?)

Some facts that support the idea that HFCS probably isn’t the reason you may be gaining weight:

* In June 2008, based on the findings of dozens of human studies, the American Medical Association announced that “high-fructose corn syrup does not appear to contribute more to obesity than other caloric sweeteners.”
* Americans are simply eating more now than they did in the past. According to the USDA, our daily calorie intake has grown by 24 percent since the 1970s. And as you know, eating more calories than you expend through activity is what causes you to gain weight. Is your body weight in a healthy range? Find out here.
* Today, more than 450 of a person’s daily calories come from beverages—which don’t satiate us the way solid foods do. HFCS sweetens many drinks—but that’s just guilt by association, not a direct cause, says Popkin.

And so, it seems, we can’t blame HFCS for causing us to pack on the pounds—but can we implicate it in making us feel hungrier? Check back next week to find out.

And, in case you missed it:
Part 2: Is high-fructose corn syrup making you hungrier?
Part 3: Is high-fructose corn syrup making your kid hyper?
Part 4: Is high-fructose corn syrup causing your tummy troubles?
Part 5: The real truth: high-fructose corn syrup is not the same as corn syrup

What do you think about high-fructose corn syrup? Tell us what you think below.

TAGS: Nicci Micco, Diet Blog

Nicci Micco
Nicci Micco is co-author of EatingWell 500-Calorie Dinners. She has a master's degree in nutrition and food sciences, with a focus in weight management.

Nicci asks: What do you think about high-fructose corn syrup?

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