Here’s some old news: High-fructose corn syrup, or HFCS, is bad for you. Duh! According to a Rutgers University study, the common processed-food ingredient (found in abundance in regular soda) can cause weight gain and diabetes if it’s not used in moderation. For these reasons nutritionists and foodies alike recommend that you keep your kids away from HFCS and avoid consuming it yourself more than occasionally.
Not Just Dumb Nutrition
What may be news to you is that researchers have all but established a definitive link between HFCS and decreased cognitive function. A UCLA study recently demonstrated that rats fed an HFCS solution for six weeks were less likely to remember the solution to a maze than a control group restricted to a healthy diet rich in omega-3 acids. If a simple sugar ingredient can keep rats from finding their way out of a maze–which, after all, is pretty much every lab rat’s goal in life–imagine what it can do to you and your kids.
The Science Behind the Slouch
How can a simple, common food ingredient be responsible for such brain carnage? High-fructose corn syrup appears to overload certain classes of neurons, disrupting normal signaling functions and preventing different parts of the brain from communicating with one another. The end result: confusion, slow cognition, and a tendency to forget how to complete simple tasks.
The same UCLA study hints that HFCS-related insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes, may affect everything from short-term energy levels to long-term emotional balance. Well, at least now you know why your kids are so bummed when that Giant Gulp is on empty.
Hands In the Cookie Jar
Adults should restrict their HFCS intake to mitigate age-related weight gain and forestall the onset of diabetes, but kids have a whole host of other problems to worry about. For starters, they’re smaller, which means that they feel the effects of the substance more than adults. They’re also more likely to gravitate towards tasty, sugary drinks and snacks like soda, candy “fruit” rolls, and sugar-coated cereals, all of which are loaded with HFCS.
Not So Innocent
Scolding your kid for eating too much sugar is one thing, but what if they can’t even help it? Many supposedly “healthy” foods geared specifically towards kids are saturated with HFCS and other harmful ingredients. These include real shockers like run-of-the-mill instant oatmeal, vitamin-rich baby food, and many popular fruit-based drinks.
If you’re too busy to comb through all of the dense ingredient labels in your home, use a shortcut to point you in the right direction. If the “sugars” content on a given Nutrition Facts label is near or equal to its “total carbohydrates” reading, the product in question contains tons of simple sugars, which generally come in the form of HFCS.
Many local governments, including big ones like New York City’s, have taken matters into their own hands and banned some HFCS-laden drinks. Although it’s tempting to want to eliminate HFCS completely, the UCLA study’s one promising find was that omega-3 acids seem capable of preventing at least some of the damage associated with the sugars. If you’re going to let your kids consume HFCS, make sure they do so in moderation and in combination with a healthy diet and exercise regimen. Though you may want to avoid the rat maze; you know how that turned out.
Karen Boyarsky is an advertising copywriter who has worked with many major healthcare clients. She occasionally blogs about current health issues and higher education opportunities in healthcare. If you have an interest in entering or furthering your career in healthcare, several schools offer degrees in health administration, including University of Cincinnati and University of Washington.