If you start reading ingredient lists, you might think high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is in everything: from soda, cereals and granola bars to even pasta sauces and ketchup. Is that a problem? Well, it depends on whom you ask.
Some people say that HFCS is nutritionally the same as sugar, while others believe that it’s pure evil. In fact, some say that our bodies break HFCS down in a way that stokes our appetites and leads us to eat too much. Could this be true? In this second installment of a 5-part series, we investigate whether HFCS makes us feel hungrier. Here’s what we discovered:
- People often confuse HFCS with plain fructose (the main type of natural sugar found in fruits and honey). In reality they are totally different beasts. High-fructose corn syrup is half fructose and half glucose—just like table sugar is.
- Studies do show that consuming pure fructose may not satisfy hunger the same way pure glucose does, says Kathleen Melanson, Ph.D., R.D., a professor of nutrition and food sciences at the University of Rhode Island. Consuming glucose causes increases in leptin, a hormone that tells the brain we’ve eaten enough. It also blunts the effects of ghrelin, a “hunger hormone” that makes us want to eat more. Pure fructose doesn’t activate these same “fullness” cues.
- Because they both are about half glucose, both HFCS and table sugar do activate leptin and ghrelin systems.
- In a 2007 study of 30 women, Kathleen Melanson and her colleagues looked at whether drinks sweetened with HFCS affected appetite differently than drinks sweetened with sucrose. They found no differences in the women’s insulin, leptin and ghrelin levels—or in the women’s own ratings of hunger. (Although studies do suggest that, in general, beverages are less satisfying than solid foods.)
And so, according to current research, it appears unlikely that HFCS is making us feel hungrier. (Get tips on keeping your appetite in control here.) But is HFCS a food ingredient that might make kids more hyperactive, as some suggest? Check back next week to find out.
And, in case you missed it:
Part 1: Is high-fructose corn syrup making you fat?
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