High fructose corn syrup in detail: what does the science say?

What is high-fructose corn syrup?

High-fructose corn syrup, also called HCFS or glucose-fructose, is a corn-derived liquid sweetener that is chemically similar to table sugar. It was first introduced to the food and beverage industry in the 1970s. HFCS immediately became an attractive alternative to sucrose because it is stable in acidic foods and beverages, and it is not granular in form, so it’s easier to add to liquid foods (such as pop). It is not meaningfully different in composition or metabolism from other fructose-glucose sweeteners, such as sucrose, honey, and fruit juice concentrates. Both HFCS and table sugar are made of glucose and fructose, and deliver 4 kcal/g.

Why is high fructose corn syrup at the centre of controversy and confusion?

The controversy started with the publication of a commentary in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN) in 2004, which suggested that HFCS in beverages might play a unique role in the epidemic of obesity, since increased use of HFCS in the United States mirrored the rapid increase in obesity. Although the authors of this commentary clearly stated that they were only describing a unique association and not a cause-and-effect relationship, a media frenzy ensued. Even though the original authors of the AJCN commentary were clear that they were simply offering a hypothesis, other investigators, the media, food manufacturers, and the public at large have contributed to this controversy, often without distinguishing between an association and cause and effect, while frequently confusing the sugars used in research studies, or exaggerating the implications of animal studies.

Is high fructose corn syrup the cause of the obesity epidemic?

No single food is the cause of obesity. Rather, obesity is a multifactorial condition that takes diet, exercise, genetics and environment into account. The hypothesis that HFCS is a unique cause of obesity is not supported by science because:

  • HFCS has the same sugars composition as other “benign” fructose-glucose sweeteners such as sucrose, honey, and fruit juice concentrates. And they are all metabolized the same way.
  • Increased caloric intake since 1970 was not due to added sugars (including HFCS) but rather was due to increased consumption of all calories, especially fat, flour and cereals.
  • Although pure fructose can cause metabolic upsets at high concentrations and in the absence of glucose, such experiments are irrelevant for HFCS, which is not consumed at extreme high levels and is not pure fructose.
  • There is no longer an association between HFCS and obesity in the United States: per capita consumption of HFCS has declined in recent years, whereas obesity rates continue to rise.
  • There is absolutely no association between HFCS use and worldwide obesity; HFCS is really a minor sweetener in the global perspective. There are epidemics of obesity and diabetes in areas where little or no HFCS is available (e.g., Mexico, Australia, and Europe).

Is high fructose corn syrup worse for our health than table sugar?

At this time, there’s not enough scientific evidence to show that HCFS is any less healthy than any other type of sweetener. One notable study compared the effects of HFCS and sucrose at 30% of calories in two randomized 2-day visits in normal-weight women. Concluding that there is nothing uniquely quantifiable about HFCS, they reported no significant difference between the two sweeteners in fasting plasma glucose, insulin, leptin, or ghrelin or in energy or micronutrient intake.

Studies show that there are no metabolic or endocrine response differences between HFCS and sucrose related to obesity or any other adverse health outcome. This is not surprising given that both of these sugars have or are:

We do know, however, that too much of any type of added sugar — not just high-fructose corn syrup — can contribute unwanted calories that are linked to health problems, such as weight gain, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and high triglyceride levels. All of these boost your risk of heart disease. For health concerns, it’s advised to cut back on added sugar, regardless of the type.

Matt Hollinger, 52 weeks of #YOURFARMERS

Matt Hollinger

Matt grows corn, soybeans, wheat, and edible beans with his family just outside of Little Britain, Ontario. Matt studied agriculture at the University of Guelph’s Kemptville campus. After he graduated in 2005, Matt went home to become a seventh generation farmer, operating Hollinger Farms Limited along with his father David. Together, they provide planting, harvesting, and trucking service to other farmers, Matt also operates Victoria County Grains, where they purchase, dry, and store corn, soybeans, and wheat. Matt and his wife Erin have three very energetic kids, Jake (4), Beau (2), and Cece (1).

        The thing I am most proud of is being connected to the land. It’s a family affair… it’s great to bring the kids up on the farm. It’s great they can come to work with me on occasion. It’s awesome to see them take pride in my work and to see them connecting to the land I value so much.


52 Weeks of #YOURFARMERS

In 2017, we’re highlighting a new Ontario grain farmer every week. Get to know us!

Soy foods in detail: what does the science say?

Does soy affect thyroid hormones?

High-level studies (a review plus two randomized controlled trials) have found that isoflavones from soy do not appear to have adverse effects on the thyroid in people with normal thyroid functioning.

People with low thyroid function (hypothyroidism) need to be assessed by a doctor, since soy foods may slightly increase the amount of thyroid medication. To date, only animal studies and case studies have looked at answering this question. More research is needed to evaluate the potential impact of soy foods and supplements on individuals with subclinical hypothyroidism.

Does soy increase the risk of breast cancer in women?

No, in fact soy may help prevent breast cancer. Meta-analyses examining the relationship between soy intake and breast cancer incidence found that soy is associated with a reduced breast cancer risk. Soy contains several compounds that may help inhibit cancer, including protease inhibitors, phytates, and isoflavones, particularly genistein.

Average isoflavone intakes from soy foods range from 25-50 mg/day in Asia, but are closer to 1-2 mg/day in North America. And Asian women who consume more soy than North American women have a 3- to 5-fold lower breast cancer risk.

Can I eat soy foods if I have had breast cancer?

Research suggests that breast cancer survivors can also safely consume soy foods in the same range as in the typical Asian diet (25-50 mg/day in Asia (from 6 – 11 g soy protein).

These studies found that soy foods have no detrimental effect on risk of breast cancer recurrence, and may actually reduce the risk. Importantly, soy does not appear to interfere with tamoxifen or anastrozole therapy.

These studies looked at a range of soy products with different levels of isoflavone content and found that none of the products showed an increase in breast cancer risk, suggesting that enjoying either processed or traditional soy foods is acceptable for breast cancer survivors.

One study followed more than 9,500 women in the U.S. and China who had been diagnosed with breast cancer and found that those who consumed at least 10 milligrams of soy isoflavones per day (the amount in a half cup of soymilk) had a 25 percent lower chance of breast cancer recurrence than those who consumed less than 4 mg of isoflavones.

Whether a person has had breast cancer or not, the Canadian Cancer Society says that “up to 3 servings a day of soy foods, such as tofu or soy milk, may be included in the diet.”

Does soy cause fertility/reproductive problems in men?

No, the science clearly shows this is not the case. Studies have found no statistically significant effect of soy consumption from different soy sources (milk, flour, isolated protein, tofu, etc.) on:

  • levels of follicle-stimulating hormone
  • testosterone levels (low levels are associated with conditions causing infertility other reproductive indicators)
  • sperm or semen parameters
  • erectile dysfunction

It’s important to note that this myth largely stems from one human study that was popularized in the media. It focused on a 19-year old male who developed low testosterone after consuming upwards of 20 servings of soy foods daily. Ingesting that much soy represents an unbalanced diet with little variety or moderation, and is outside of the norm. It is not representative of the average male soy intake.

Recent studies indicate that soy consumption – in amounts of 2-4 servings of soy foods per day – will not affect fertility in males. A 2010 meta-analysis examined 15 studies to determine whether isoflavones exert estrogen-like effects in men. The results showed that neither soy foods nor isoflavone supplements lower testosterone levels or affect fertility in men.
A 2010 Medline literature review published in the journal Fertility and Sterility yielded similar results. The researcher found that soy does not alter testosterone or estrogen levels, and that isoflavones have no effect on sperm count and do not exert feminizing effects in men.

Take a virtual tool of an Ontario grain farm!

We’ve been working hard to show you what life is like on an Ontario grain farm, and our friends at Farm & Food Care have built a great resource for that: their virtual tour of a grain farm.

        This is an Ontario grain farm run by the mother-daughter team of Sharon and Valerie. They grow wheat, corn and soybeans and store them in their on-farm elevator. Sharon is a graduate of the University of Guelph and mother of six who has run the business since 1967. Valerie decided to start working in the farm business after completing a co-op term there during university – she’s a graduate of the University of Waterloo and has two young children.

Click the link below to visit Sharon and Valerie’s farm!

Virtual Farm Tours

Do farmers work in the winter?

Farm in the winter

        Do farmers work in the winter? How can they work when there’s snow on the ground and most crops are harvested?

It’s hard to imagine a grain farmer working in the winter while there is snow on the fields and the tractors are safely stored away, but they do! Most farmers spend their winters planning for the next year.

Farmers meet with the seed, chemical, and fertilizer dealers to talk about products they plan to purchase and negotiate prices. They also meet with their bankers, accountants, and tractor and equipment dealers to talk about the following year, too.

Farmers also spend a lot of time on maintenance on machinery and on the farm. Spring, summer and fall get pretty busy, so any downtime is spent on fixing and upgrading machinery and buildings. If they stored grain, they might also be watching the markets, preparing to sell and ship that grain off their farm.

In the winter, farmers will also attend meetings, conferences, and trade shows put on by commodity groups, trade organizations, and agriculture product retailers that showcase new and innovative technologies. Farmers like to say that winters are for playing catch up: catching up on meetings, catching up on work, and most importantly, catching up on time with family and friends.