High-fructose corn syrup

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Structural formulae of fructose (left) and glucose (right)

High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) (also called glucose-fructose, isoglucose and glucose-fructose syrup[1][2]) is a sweetener made from corn starch that has been processed by glucose isomerase to convert some of its glucose into fructose. HFCS was first marketed in the early 1970s by the Clinton Corn Processing Company, together with the Japanese Agency of Industrial Science and Technology where the enzyme was discovered in 1965.[3]:5

As a sweetener, HFCS is often compared to granulated sugar, but manufacturing advantages of HFCS over sugar include that it is easier to handle and more cost-effective.[4] Although there is debate concerning whether HFCS presents greater health risks than other sweeteners,[5] manufacturing and safety concerns have been dismissed,[4] including declaration by the United States Food and Drug Administration that HFCS is a safe ingredient for food and beverage manufacturing.[6] Uses and exports of HFCS from American producers have continued to grow over the early 21st Century.[7]

Apart from comparisons between HFCS and table sugar, there is some evidence that the overconsumption of added sugar in any form, including HFCS, is a major health problem, especially for onset of obesity.[4][8][9] Consuming added sugars, particularly as sweetened soft drinks, is strongly linked to weight gain.[4][10] The World Health Organization has recommended that people limit their consumption of added sugars to 10% of calories, but experts say that typical consumption of empty calories in the United States is nearly twice that level.[10]

Uses[edit]

Food[edit]

In the U.S., HFCS is among the sweeteners that mostly replaced sucrose (table sugar) in the food industry.[11] Factors include production quotas of domestic sugar, import tariff on foreign sugar, and subsidies of U.S. corn, raising the price of sucrose and lowering that of HFCS, making it cheapest for many sweetener applications.[12][13] The relative sweetness of HFCS 55, used most commonly in soft drinks, is comparable to sucrose.[14] HFCS (and/or standard corn syrup) is the primary ingredient in most brands of commercial "pancake syrup", as a less expensive substitute for maple syrup.[15]

Because of its similar sugar profile and lower price, HFCS has been used illegally to "stretch" honey. Assays to detect adulteration with HFCS use differential scanning calorimetry and other advanced testing methods.[16][17]

Beekeeping[edit]

In apiculture in the United States, HFCS is a honey substitute for some managed honey bee colonies during times when nectar is in low supply.[18][19] However, when HFCS is heated to about 45 °C (113 °F), hydroxymethylfurfural, which is toxic to bees, can form from the breakdown of fructose.[20][21] Although some researchers cite honey substitution with HFCS as one factor among many for colony collapse disorder, there is no evidence that HFCS is a solitary cause.[18][19][22] Further, compared to hive honey, HFCS may be a deficiency in the diet for developing genes associated with protein metabolism and physiological benefits affecting bee health.[19]

Production[edit]

Process[edit]

In the contemporary process, corn is milled to extract corn starch and an "acid-enzyme" process is used, in which the corn-starch solution is acidified to begin breaking up the existing carbohydrates.[23] It is necessary to carry out the extraction process in the presence of mercuric chloride (0.01 M) in order to inhibit endogenous starch-degrading enzymes.[24]:374–376 High-temperature enzymes are added to further metabolize the starch and convert the resulting sugars to fructose.[23]:808–813 The first enzyme added is alpha-amylase, which breaks the long chains down into shorter sugar chains – oligosaccharides. Glucoamylase is mixed in and converts them to glucose; the resulting solution is filtered to remove protein, then using activated carbon, and then demineralized using ion-exchange resins. The purified solution is then run over immobilized xylose isomerase, which turns the sugars to ~50–52% glucose with some unconverted oligosaccharides and 42% fructose (HFCS 42), and again demineralized and again purified using activated carbon. Some is processed into HFCS 90 by liquid chromatography, then mixed with HFCS 42 to form HFCS 55. The enzymes used in the process are made by microbial fermentation.[23]:808–813[3]:20–22

Composition and varieties[edit]

HFCS is 24% water, the rest being mainly fructose and glucose with 0–5% unprocessed glucose oligomers.[25] There are several varieties of HFCS, numbered by the percentage of fructose they contain:

  • HFCS 42 (≈42% fructose if water were removed) is used in beverages, processed foods, cereals, and baked goods.[26]
  • HFCS 55 is mostly used in soft drinks.
  • HFCS 65 is used in soft drinks dispensed by Coca-Cola Freestyle machines.[27]
  • HFCS 90 has some niche uses[28] but is mainly mixed with HFCS 42 to make HFCS 55.

History[edit]

Commercial production of corn syrup began in 1864.[3]:17 In the late 1950s, scientists at Clinton Corn Processing Company of Clinton, Iowa tried to turn glucose from corn starch into fructose, but the process was not scalable.[3]:17[29] In 1965–1970 Yoshiyuki Takasaki, at the Japanese National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) developed a heat-stable xylose isomerase enzyme from yeast. In 1967, the Clinton Corn Processing Company obtained an exclusive license to a manufacture glucose isomerase derived from Streptomyces bacteria and began shipping an early version of HCFS in February 1967.[3]:140 In 1983, the FDA approved HFCS as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS), and that decision was reaffirmed in 1996[30]

Prior to the development of the worldwide sugar industry, dietary fructose was limited to only a few items. Milk, meats, and most vegetables, the staples of many early diets, have no fructose, and only 5–10% fructose by weight is found in fruits such as grapes, apples, and blueberries. Most traditional dried fruits, however, contain about 50% fructose. From 1970 to 2000, there was a 25% increase in "added sugars" in the U.S.[31] After being classified as generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1976,[32] HFCS began to replace sucrose as the main sweetener of soft drinks in the United States. At the same time, rates of obesity rose. That correlation, in combination with laboratory research and epidemiological studies that suggested a link between consuming large amounts of fructose and changes to various proxy health measures, including elevated blood triglycerides, size and type of low-density lipoproteins, uric acid levels, and weight, raised concerns about health effects of HFCS itself.[25]

United States[edit]

Consumption of sugar and corn-based sweeteners in the United States from 1966 to 2013, in dry-basis pounds per capita

In the U.S., sugar tariffs and quotas keep imported sugar at up to twice the global price since 1797,[33] while subsidies to corn growers cheapen the primary ingredient in HFCS, corn. Industrial users looking for cheaper replacements rapidly adopted HFCS in the 1970s.[34][35]

HFCS is easier to handle than granulated sucrose, although some sucrose is transported as solution. Unlike sucrose, HFCS cannot be hydrolyzed, but the free fructose in HFCS may produce hydroxymethylfurfural when stored at high temperatures; these differences are most prominent in acidic beverages.[36] Soft drink makers such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi continue to use sugar in other nations but transitioned to HFCS for U.S. markets in 1980 before completely switching over in 1984.[37] Large corporations, such as Archer Daniels Midland, lobby for the continuation of government corn subsidies.[38]

Consumption of HFCS in the U.S. has declined since it peaked at 37.5 lb (17.0 kg) per person in 1999. The average American consumed approximately 27.1 lb (12.3 kg) of HFCS in 2012,[39] versus 39.0 lb (17.7 kg) of refined cane and beet sugar.[40][41] This decrease in domestic consumption of HFCS resulted in a push in exporting of the product. In 2014, exports of HFCS were valued at $436 million, a decrease of 21% in one year, with Mexico receiving about 75% of the export volume.[7]

In 2010, the Corn Refiners Association petitioned the FDA to call HFCS "corn sugar", but the petition was denied.[42]

European Union[edit]

In the European Union (EU), HFCS, known as isoglucose in sugar regime, is subject to a production quota. In 2005, this quota was set at 303,000 tons; in comparison, the EU produced an average of 18.6 million tons of sugar annually between 1999 and 2001.[43]

Japan[edit]

In Japan, HFCS is manufactured mostly from imported U.S. corn, and the output is regulated by the government. For the period from 2007 to 2012, HFCS had a 27–30% share of the Japanese sweetener market.[44]:21

Health[edit]

High-fructose corn syrup
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 1,176 kJ (281 kcal)
76 g
Dietary fiber 0 g
0 g
0 g
Vitamins
Riboflavin (B2)
(2%)
0.019 mg
Niacin (B3)
(0%)
0 mg
Pantothenic acid (B5)
(0%)
0.011 mg
Vitamin B6
(2%)
0.024 mg
Folate (B9)
(0%)
0 μg
Vitamin C
(0%)
0 mg
Minerals
Calcium
(1%)
6 mg
Iron
(3%)
0.42 mg
Magnesium
(1%)
2 mg
Phosphorus
(1%)
4 mg
Potassium
(0%)
0 mg
Sodium
(0%)
2 mg
Zinc
(2%)
0.22 mg
Other constituents
Water 24 g

Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database

Health concerns have been raised about a relationship between HFCS and metabolic disorders, and with regard to manufacturing contaminants. In general, however, the United States Food and Drug Administration has declared HFCS as a safe ingredient in food manufacturing, and there is no evidence that retail HFCS products contain harmful compounds or cause diseases.[4][6]

Nutrition[edit]

HFCS is composed of 76% carbohydrates and 24% water, containing no fat, no protein, and no essential nutrients in significant amounts (table). In a 100 gram serving, it supplies 281 Calories, whereas in one tablespoon of 19 grams, it supplies 53 Calories (table link).

Obesity and metabolic disorders[edit]

Sugars became a health concern among the American public in the early 1970s with the publication of John Yudkin's book, Pure, White and Deadly. The book claimed that simple sugars, an increasingly large part of the Western diet, were dangerous.[3]:18 In the 1980s and 1990s were publications cautioning consumption of sucrose and of HFCS.[3]:18[3]:18[45] In subsequent interviews, two of the study's authors stated the article was distorted to place emphasis solely on HFCS when the actual issue was the overconsumption of any type of sugar.[46][47] While fructose absorption and modification by the intestines and liver does differ from glucose initially, the majority of the fructose molecules are converted to glucose or metabolized into byproducts identical to those produced by glucose metabolism. Consumption of moderate amounts of fructose has also been linked to positive outcomes, including reducing appetite if consumed before a meal, lower blood sugar increases compared to glucose, and (again compared to glucose) delaying exhaustion if consumed during exercise.[25]

In 2007, an expert panel assembled by the University of Maryland's Center for Food, Nutrition and Agriculture Policy reviewed the links between HFCS and obesity and concluded there was no ecological validity in the association between rising body mass indexes (a measure of obesity) and the consumption of HFCS. The panel stated that since the ratio of fructose to glucose had not changed substantially in the United States since the 1960s when HFCS was introduced, the changes in obesity rates were probably not due to HFCS specifically, but rather a greater consumption of calories overall.[48] In 2009 the American Medical Association published a review article on HFCS and concluded it was unlikely that HFCS contributed more to obesity or other health conditions than sucrose, and there was insufficient evidence to suggest warning about or restricting use of HFCS or other fructose-containing sweeteners in foods. The review did report that while some studies found direct associations between high intakes of fructose and other sugars and adverse health outcomes, including obesity and the metabolic syndrome, there was insufficient evidence to ban or restrict use of HFCS in the food supply or to require warning labels on products containing HFCS.[49]

Epidemiological research has suggested that the increase in metabolic disorders like obesity and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is linked to increased consumption of sugars and/or calories in general and not due to any special effect of HFCS.[25][50][51] A 2014 systematic review found little evidence for an association between HFCS consumption and liver diseases, enzyme levels or fat content.[52] A 2012 review found that fructose did not appear to cause weight gain when it replaced other carbohydrates in diets with similar calories.[53] One study investigating HFCS as a possible contributor to diabetes and obesity states that, "As many of the metabolic consequences of a diet high in fructose-containing sugars in humans can also be observed with high-fat or high-glucose feeding, it is possible that excess calories may be the main culprit in the development of the metabolic syndrome."[54] Another study compared similar intakes of honey, white cane sugar, and HFCS, showing similar rises in both blood sugar level and triglycerides.[55] High fructose consumption has been linked to high levels of uric acid in the blood, though this is only thought to be a concern for patients with gout.[25]

Numerous agencies in the United States recommend reducing the consumption of all sugars, including HFCS, without singling it out as presenting extra concerns. The Mayo Clinic cites the American Heart Association's recommendation that women limit the added sugar in their diet to 100 calories a day (~6 teaspoons) and that men limit it to 150 calories a day (~9 teaspoons), noting that there is not enough evidence to support HFCS having more adverse health effects than excess consumption of any other type of sugar.[56][57] The United States departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services recommendations for a healthy diet state that consumption of all types of added sugars be reduced.[58]:p.27

People with fructose malabsorption should avoid foods containing HFCS.[59]

Safety and manufacturing concerns[edit]

Since 2014, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has declared HFCS to be safe as a food ingredient.[6] In 2015, production of HFCS in the United States was 8.5 million tons from some 500 million bushels of corn.[60]

One consumer concern about HFCS is that processing of corn is more complex than used for “simpler” or “more natural” sugars, such as fruit juice concentrates or agave nectar, but all sweetener products derived from raw materials involve similar processing steps of pulping, hydrolysis, enzyme treatment, and filtration, among other common steps of sweetener manufacturing from natural sources.[4][60][61] In the contemporary process to make HFCS, an "acid-enzyme" step is used in which the cornstarch solution is acidified to digest the existing carbohydrates, then enzymes are added to further metabolize the cornstarch and convert the resulting sugars to their constituents of fructose and glucose.[60][61] Analyses published in 2014 showed that HFCS content of fructose was consistent across samples from 80 randomly selected carbonated beverages sweetened with HFCS.[62]

One prior concern in manufacturing was whether HFCS contains reactive carbonyl compounds or advanced glycation end-products evolved during processing.[63] This concern was dismissed, however, with evidence that HFCS poses no dietary risk from these compounds.[4]

Through the early 21st Century, some factories manufacturing HFCS had used a chlor-alkali corn processing method which, in cases of applying mercury cell technology for digesting corn raw material, left trace residues of mercury in some batches of HFCS.[64] In a 2009 release,[65] The Corn Refiners Association stated that all factories in the American industry for manufacturing HFCS had used mercury-free processing over several previous years, making the prior report outdated.[64] As of 2017, the USDA, FDA and US Centers for Disease Control list HFCS as a safe food ingredient, and do not mention mercury as a safety concern in HFCS products.[6][60][66]

Other[edit]

Taste difference[edit]

Some countries, including Mexico, use sucrose, or table sugar, in soft drinks. In the U.S., soft drinks, including Coca-Cola, are typically made with HFCS. Some Americans seek out drinks such as Mexican Coca-Cola in ethnic groceries because they prefer the taste more than the HFCS-sweetened Coca-Cola.[67][68] Kosher Coca-Cola, sold in the U.S. around the Jewish holiday of Passover, also uses sucrose rather than HFCS and is highly sought after by people who prefer the original taste.[69] While these are simply opinions, a 2011 study further backed up the idea that people enjoy sucrose (table sugar) more than HFCS. The study, conducted by Michigan State University, included a 99-member panel that evaluated yogurt sweetened with sucrose (table sugar), HFCS, and different varieties of honey for likeness. The results showed that, overall, the panel enjoyed the yogurt with sucrose (table sugar) added more than those that contained HFCS or honey.[70]

Public relations[edit]

There are various public relations concerns with HFCS, including how the product is being advertised as well as it being labeled as "natural." More concerns include companies that have moved back to sucrose (table sugar) and a proposed name change from "high fructose corn syrup" to "corn sugar." In 2010, the Corn Refiners Association, or CRA, applied to allow HFCS to be renamed "corn sugar", but was rejected by the United States Food and Drug Administration in 2012.[71] The CRA has reportedly spent millions in public relation campaigns in an effort to portray HFCS in a positive light, sometimes without disclosing their involvement in the campaigns. For example, in 2009 the association paid the public relations firm Berman & Company $3.5 million to defend their products. An email sent out by a CRA staff member stated, "As you know, our sponsorship of this campaign remains confidential, [. . .] We are funding Berman & Company directly, not the Center for Consumer Freedom, which is running the ads. If asked, please feel free to state the following: 'The Corn Refiners Association is not funding the Center for Consumer Freedom.'"[72] This was one of several campaigns that the CRA chose not to disclose their involvement in.

McDonald's reported in August 2016 that, in a move to please health-conscious customers, they would be replacing all HFCS in their buns with sucrose (table sugar). In addition, they would also cut out preservatives and other artificial additives from their menu items. Marion Gross, senior vice president of McDonald's stated, "We know that they [consumers] don't feel good about high-fructose corn syrup so we're giving them what they're looking for instead." [73] Other companies such as Hunt's Ketchup, Gatorade, and Wheat Thins have also phased out HFCS, replacing it with conventional sugar (sucrose). Companies such as Pepsi, Mountain Dew, and Heinz have also released products that use sucrose (table sugar) in lieu of HFCS, although they still sell the original HFCS-sweetened versions as well.[74]

See also[edit]

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