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High-fructose Corn Syrup: The Most Common Sweetener

High-fructose corn syrup is easily more popular than sucrose on fast-food menus. Why? Price and preservation.

©iStockphoto.com/profeta

Fast-food restaurants have many different ways to sweeten beverages, baked goods and condiments. Sucrose, or sugar, reigned as the traditional sweetener for years until food scientists began to synthesize sugar substitutes. Saccharin arrived first, followed by aspartame and sucralose.

A more significant revolution came in 1957 when two scientists worked out a process to manufacture high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Since then, HFCS has evolved into the sweetener of choice, finding its way into a myriad of foods and beverages. In our survey of fast-food menus, the chemical appeared as the first ingredient almost twice as much as sugar.

So what is it and why is it controversial? The process to make HFCS involves changing one simple sugar -- glucose -- in cornstarch to another simple sugar known as fructose. The product, a combination of the two simple sugars, is just as sweet as sucrose, but much cheaper to process. It also acts as a preservative, extending the shelf life of foods. No wonder it's one of the most ubiquitous ingredients in fast food.

Unfortunately, some research has shown a link between HFCS and obesity. At the very least, many beverages and processed foods made with this corn-derived sweetener are high in calories and low in nutritional value.

Color additives, like the one we're about to cover, also have bad reputations.

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