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The Bittersweet Truth - High Fructose Corn Syrup

Seema Chandra, Food Editor, NDTV, Modified: October 09, 2014 12:08 IST

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The Bittersweet Truth - High Fructose Corn Syrup I have been accorded the status of the prime grocery shopper for the family, and i tend to take this job rather seriously. Not so long back, I kept stumbling upon one item again and again. I decided to do a random check and took six things out of the grocery cupboard. And read each label. Sure enough, my fears came true. I found a chair and sat down. There was evil lurking in my kitchen and I hadn't seen it all this while.

It had a highly innocent sounding name -- High Fructose Corn Syrup. (HFCS) But it has the ability to do more damage than you can imagine.

Let's begin with a few basic questions.

What is regular sugar made up of?
Regular sugar is made up of glucose and fructose.

Which one is worse?
Fructose is much worse as it leads to belly fat as well as high bad cholesterol.

But you could argue that fructose is found in fruits, say an apple. Surely fruits are good for us.
One of the best explanations to this, I read somewhere went like this. The difference between fructose in an apple and fructose in a soda is the difference between a beautiful fur coat on a wild fox and that same fur on the back of a lady at the opera.  It's gorgeous on its original owner (the fox) But on the lady? Not so much.

Now just in case you think that I am getting all sugary and sticky about nothing, let me tell you why the fuss. In the last some years, HFCS has creeped into most things we buy in a grocery store. It is derived from corn, and normally corn syrup isn't very sweet. But once its glucose has been converted into fructose and the corn syrup has been transformed into high-fructose corn syrup, it's very sweet, sweeter than sugar. (More: Read your labels - Top 10 things to look out for)

Next obvious question is why has this fairly recent entrant into the food industry become so popular.  There are some very good reasons for that.

It is sweeter than sugar.
It is very very cheap to produce.
It mixes very well with liquids.
And it preserves very well, and adds to the shelf life of the products.

Then we shouldn't be too surprised that it is being liberally used in almost everything we eat?
Soft drinks, jelly, juice, whole-grain breads, cereals, ketchup, crackers, yogurt, sweet pickles, candy bars, salad dressing, ice cream, I could go on and on. Start reading the labels at the grocery store and you'll be surprised at how often high fructose corn syrup will appear on every shelf. And since these are part of our everyday diet, chances are that we are all consuming highly preserved food items without knowing it.

So while fructose has no benefits, some experts feel it's responsible for growing obesity rates. Others argue that having large doses of white sugar is equally harmful.  The bittersweet truth is that, either way, it's empty calories sneaking into our daily diet.

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