High fructose corn syrup, also referred to as isoglucose, maize syrup, or glucose-fructose, is found throughout our food system. Whether it is in cereals or yogurt, lunch meat or condiments, you’re bound to consume HFCS on a daily basis.

HFCS was invented by a French chemist in 1811, in response to Napoleon’s 100,000 franc reward for anyone who could produce sugar locally. The imperial decree resulted from a blockade that prevented French traders from accessing the West Indian sugarcane, along with France’s unwillingness to patronize the British sugar companies. The crippling economic toll that this had on the West Indies is still felt today.

A century and a half after its invention, HFCS came to dominate the North American food system for similar reasons. High tariffs on imported sugar in the 1970s prompted corn subsidies, which enabled HFCS to be an economical alternative.

Soft drinks, which have contained HFCS since the 1980s, have come a long way since their origin in the 1700s, when they were made with honey. Interestingly, not all countries worldwide use HFCS in their soft drinks. For this reason, Mexican Coca-Cola is a rare treat sought after by enthusiasts who prefer the taste of sucrose, which is derived from cane sugar.

HFCS is often discussed in the media, and there is much speculation regarding potentially adverse health effects. Considering that HFCS resembles sugar from a chemical standpoint, it is understandable that it is not healthy for you. Like sugar, its consumption should also be kept to a minimum.

A considerable amount of research has been dedicated to investigating whether HFCS is less healthy than sugar. With regards to their negative effects on obesity and blood-glucose levels, HFCS and sugar are nearly identical. However, HFCS is metabolized differently from sugar, and can promote abnormal lipid patterns. Studies have shown that unlike regular sugar, it may increase low-density lipoproteins, or bad cholesterol. It also produces the byproduct uric acid, which indirectly increases blood pressure and affects the functioning of the blood vessel wall.

Nevertheless, while the 10 teaspoons of HFCS in every can of pop are potentially a point of concern, the “diet” alternatives are not necessarily better. Next week, we’ll look at the story behind artificial sweeteners. Until then, bon appétit!