By now, you might have heard some concerns about high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). As it turns out, they may be warranted. This cheap sweetener, found in a wide range of commercial beverages, processed foods and condiments, appears to be a prime culprit in the American obesity epidemic.

Since high-fructose corn syrup was introduced into the American diet, its use has expanded dramatically. In fact, from 1970 to 1990, consumption increased more than 1000%. This far exceeded changes in intake of any other food or food group. HFCS currently accounts for 40% of all added caloric sweeteners.1,2,3 Now, observe if you will another trend within the same time frame. America’s obesity rate shot up from 15% in 1970 to nearly 33% today.

Research suggests a clear connection between the introduction of HFCS and those rising obesity rates.4 One study, looking at both the short and long-term effects of this pervasive sweetener on body weight, fat, and circulating triglycerides found that not only did subjects consuming HFCS gain significantly more weight, notably in the belly region, but triglyceride levels were raised as well.5

How do HFCS-laden foods/beverages promote weight gain? It’s not merely a matter of calories. HFCS also reduces circulating levels of the hormones insulin and leptin. Apparently, since these hormones function as key signals to the central nervous system in regulating calorie balance, decreased levels can encourage greater calorie intake, which naturally contributes to weight gain and potential obesity.6

The obesity connection isn’t the only problem with HFCS, however. As it has increased in the American diet, so have other health-related issues including the metabolic syndrome and diabetes.7,8,9

If you wish to avoid HFCS, cutting out sodas and other sweetened drinks is an essential step. And, if you’re not already an avid label reader, you might want to start, since HFCS often lurks where you little suspect it. As always, sticking to fresh, whole unprocessed foods is your best defense. Food for thought, no?

1 Am J Clin Nutr 2004;79:537–43
2 Int J Obes (Lond) 2008;32:S127–31
3 Curr Opin Lipidol 2010
4 J Med 2008;10:160. Int J Obes (Lond). 2008 Dec;32 Suppl 7:S127-31
5 Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2010 Nov;97(1):101-6. Epub 2010 Feb 26
6 J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2004;89:2963–72
7 Circulation 2007; 116: 480-8
8 Circulation 2007; 116: 480-8 and diabetes
9 Am J Clin Nutr 2007; 86: 1174-8