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High fructose corn syrup: how to avoid the hidden health sabotager

Many so-called healthy foods contain HFCS. Here's how to avoid it

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Let’s face it–some runners use running as a way to justify eating junk, figuring they’re burning any “extra” calories they consume. And they may be quite happy with their weight. But there are good reasons to avoid not just junk food, but foods and drinks some people think of as healthy, that are typically sweetened with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)–and not only for reasons having to do with maintaining a healthy weight.

RELATED: How cutting back on sugar is making me a better runner

High fructose corn syrup, which is made from cornstarch, was developed by the food industry as a cheaper and sweeter sugar alternative. Foods labelled as “low-fat” may be particularly high in HFCS, to make up for the loss of flavour resulting from the removal of fat.

HFCS is used in almost all processed foods, including not just candy and soft drinks, but also flavoured yogurt, commercial salad dressings, granola bars, energy bars, and grocery-store sports drinks. A quick read of the ingredient list (under the Nutrition Facts) will tell you if the product contains high fructose corn syrup (also sometimes referred to as “glucose-fructose”).



So why is HFCS a problem? There’s a lot of conflicting advice from special-interest groups masquerading as health websites, and it can be tough to know which information sources to trust. For years the sugar industry got away with publishing misleading information on the role of dietary fat in heart disease and stroke, and it’s possible some claims about the evils of HFCS are similarly exaggerated. But generally, as with added sugar, HFCS is to be avoided, and not just because of the potential weight gain it may cause, but because of its potential to contribute to inflammation, fatty liver disease, and type-2 diabetes. 

RELATED: Study finds fructose to be significant contributor to weight gain

Tips for avoiding HFCS:

Add fruit (and a dash of maple syrup) to plain, unsweetened yogurt

Dilute sports drinks, or opt instead for those sweetened with stevia, xylitol, maple syrup, honey, or agave syrup

Make your own salad dressing with olive oil and balsamic vinegar

Bake your own bars and squares and wrap individually for long runs. In most cases you can easily reduce the sugar content by up to one quarter without sacrificing taste.

RELATED: Homemade sports gels