Cornstarch is used in countless food items ranging from snack foods such as cakes, cookies and doughnuts, to beverages such as fruit juice, soft drinks and beer, to meats such as sausage, bologna and hotdogs. It is also used in ice cream, cereals and condiments. Consuming an excessive amount of these products leads to a myriad of health problems including obesity, high blood pressure and cancer. In addition, the consumption of large quantities of raw cornstarch by pregnant women is a compulsive disorder that can cause pregnancy and delivery complications.
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Cornstarch is a powdery substance used to thicken soups, gravies and other liquids. However, it is also converted to glucose, which is then converted to fructose -- specifically high fructose corn syrup, or HFCS. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, most of the syrups are either 42 percent or 55 percent fructose, although some concentrations are as high as 90 percent.
A study by Princeton University revealed that laboratory rats that consumed HFCS gained substantially more weight than rats fed table sugar. The HFCS group of rats also had significantly more body fat, particularly in the abdominal region. According to one of the researchers, Bart Hoebel, who is a professor of psychology and neuroscience, “When rats are drinking high-fructose corn syrup at levels well below those in soda pop, they're becoming obese -- every single one, across the board. Even when rats are fed a high-fat diet, you don't see this; they don't all gain extra weight.”
High Blood Pressure
Consuming high levels of HFCS also contributes to high blood pressure. Nephrologists -- or kidney specialists -- at the University of Colorado Denver Health Sciences Center examined three years of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, focusing on 4,500 adults with no history of hypertension. The researchers found that people who consumed more than 2.5 soft drinks a day have an increased risk of developing high blood pressure.
Cancer is another health risk increased by the consumption of HFCS. Scientists at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center took pancreatic tumors from patients and grew the cells in petri dishes. Then they injected the pancreatic cancer cells with fructose and observed that the cancer cells grew at a more rapid rate. Dr. Anthony Heaney, professor of medicine and neurosurgery at the university, stated the likelihood that fructose “would also speed the growth of other cancers as well.”
Amylophagia is a compulsive disorder in pregnant women that causes them to ingest raw cornstarch in large quantities. The condition occurs worldwide, but in the United States it is more common in the rural south. The excessive consumption of pure cornstarch causes elevated blood glucose levels, which can lead to abnormalities in the baby’s developmental process, premature delivery, C-section delivery and a high birth weight.
- Corn Refiners Association; Corn Starch
- Center for Science in the Public Interest: Chemical Cuisine -- Learn About Food Additives
- Princeton University; A Sweet Problem: Researchers Find that High Fructose Corn Syrup Prompts Considerably More Weight Gain; Hilary Parker
- Science News; Fructose Sweeteners May Hike Blood Pressure; Janet Raloff
- UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center; Pancreatic Cancers Use Fructose to Fuel Growth; Anthony Heaney, M.D., Ph.D.