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Here’s Another Reason to Keep an Eye on High-Fructose Corn Syrup

This common sweetener could wreak havoc on your liver health.

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It’s not exactly a secret that high-fructose corn syrup is an ingredient worthy of concern. This super-common sweetening agent is incredibly prevalent, appearing in everything from sodas to fruit juices to candy to bread (yep, even bread is sweetened!), but we’ve long known that sugars and sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup can contribute to both nutritional and health concerns. 

Now, research suggests that this particular ingredient may also have an impact on the liver. 

Too much fructose may affect your liver’s fat production

Researchers presented findings on the potential link between fructose consumption and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society. Over the course of their work, the researchers examined data from over 3,000 individuals who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2017 to 2018. That data included diagnoses of NAFLD, fructose consumption levels, and demographic factors. 

While the researchers looked closely at the prevalence of NAFLD in individuals of different ethnicities, they also examined the participants’ fructose consumption in comparison to their odds for developing NAFLD. Those consumed the highest amounts of fructose were found to be more likely to have NAFLD compared to those with the lowest fructose intake. 

As a result, the researchers concluded that there’s a link between how much fructose you consume and your risk of developing NAFLD. 

High-fructose corn syrup in particular may play a key role

Although the study’s researchers looked at overall fructose consumption in their work, eating certain types of fructose may present more cause for concern than others.

For example, fructose – a simple sugar – is naturally found in many fruits and vegetables. But high-fructose corn syrup, on the other hand, is a chemical concoction that’s commonly found in sugar-sweetened beverages and processed foods. And previous research has pinpointed high-fructose corn syrup as a substance worthy of concern when it comes to your liver. The National Institutes of Health notes that excessive consumption of this kind of fructose may increase your risk of NAFLD and potentially play a role in encouraging the liver to store more fat.

Dr. Donald D. Hensrud, M.D., M.S. of the new Mayo Clinic Diet, confirms that eating too much sugar and sweeteners can be problematic for the liver. “Consuming too much sugar or high-fructose corn syrup may cause fatty buildup and rarely may lead to long-term damage to the liver,” he notes.

Can other sugars and sweeteners impact liver health too?

This research on high-fructose corn syrup only focuses on the potential effects of consuming one particular sweetener, and there are differences between sugars, sweeteners, and how the body utilizes those substances

Dr. Hensrud shares that, when it comes to sugars and sweeteners in your diet, you should keep an eye out for the following: “Any foods and drinks with added sugars like candy, cake, soda, or sports drinks would be best to limit or omit from your diet.” 

But it’s not just traditionally sugar-filled treats you want to watch. As Dr. Hensrud points out, “Many processed foods we consume contain added sugars which can contribute to increased weight and increased fat in the liver.” 

Instead, he suggests opting for unprocessed foods that contain a balance of carbs, fiber, and protein. And don’t forget about fruits and veggies. “To ensure a healthy liver, eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, maintain a healthy weight and stay hydrated,” Dr. Hensrud recommends. 

You can also keep the Dietary Guidelines for Americans in mind. These guidelines recommend limiting added sugar intake to no more than 10 percent of your total daily calories. And ultimately, you can’t go wrong with cutting back on added sugar of all kinds.

To learn more about liver health and sugars, keep reading: