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The Truth About 7 Common Food Additives

How safe are the ingredients in your food?
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2. High fructose corn syrup

What it is

High fructose corn syrup is a sweetener made from corn. It's sweeter and cheaper than sucrose, which is the form of sugar made from sugar cane.

Foods that have it

High fructose corn syrup is a common additive in many kinds of processed foods, not just sweets. Most non-diet soft drinks are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup.

Why it's controversial

Some experts have proposed that people metabolize high fructose corn syrup in a way that raises the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes more than sugar made from sugar cane. Much of the controversy stems from the observation that obesity in the United States and consumption of high fructose corn syrup increased at the same time.

What the research shows

"It's just sugar," says Marion Nestle, PhD, a professor of nutrition and public health at New York University. "Biochemically, there's no difference."

The high fructose corn syrups commonly used to sweeten foods and drinks are 55-58% fructose and 42-45% glucose. Sucrose (cane sugar) is a double sugar made of fructose and  glucose. Digestion quickly breaks down cane sugar and high fructose corn syrup into fructose and glucose.

"There's a little bit more fructose in high fructose corn syrup, but not a lot," Nestle says. "It doesn't really make any difference. The body can't tell them apart."  The American Medical Association recently stated that there is scant evidence to support the idea that high fructose corn syrup is any worse than cane sugar and that consuming too much sugar of either kind is unhealthy.

How you find it on the label

High fructose corn syrup can be found in the list of ingredients on a food label.

3. Aspartame

What it is

Aspartame is an artificial sweetener known by various brand names, including Equal and NutraSweet.

Foods that have it

Aspartame is a commonly used additive for sweetening diet soft drinks.

Why it's controversial

Various health concerns have been raised about aspartame since it was introduced in 1981. Most recently, it has been suspected of causing cancer. There have been reports of aspartame causing seizures, headaches, mood disturbances, and reduced mental performance. A study published in 2005 suggested that aspartame could cause leukemia and lymphoma in rats. Another study, published in 1996, argued that an increase in the rate of brain tumors in the United States could be related to consumption of aspartame.

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