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Q. Is high-fructose corn syrup bad for you?

By Joyce Hendley, September/October 2007

Is high-fructose corn syrup bad for you?

A. High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a manmade sweetener that’s found in a wide range of processed foods, from ketchup and cereals to crackers and salad dressings. It also sweetens just about all of the (regular) soda Americans drink. HFCS used in foods is between 50 to 55 percent fructose—so chemically, it’s virtually identical to table sugar (sucrose), which is 50 percent fructose. Metabolic studies suggest our bodies break down and use HFCS and sucrose the same way.

Yet, after HFCS began to be widely introduced into the food supply 30-odd years ago, obesity rates skyrocketed. And because the sweetener is so ubiquitous, many blame HFCS for playing a major role in our national obesity epidemic. As a result, some shoppers equate HFCS with “toxic waste” when they see it on a food label. But when it comes right down to it, a sugar is a sugar is a sugar. A can of soda contains around nine teaspoons of sugar in the form of HFCS—but, from a biochemical standpoint, drinking that soda is no worse for you than sipping home-brewed iced tea that you’ve doctored with nine teaspoons of table sugar or an equivalent amount of honey.

Even Barry Popkin, Ph.D., a nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who previously suggested, in an influential 2004 paper, a possible HFCS-obesity link, stresses that the real obesity problem doesn’t lie just with HFCS. Rather, it’s the fact that sugars from all sources have become so prevalent in our food supply, especially in our beverages. He scoffs at the “natural” sweeteners sometimes added to upscale processed foods like organic crackers and salad dressings. “They all have the same caloric effects as sugar,” he explains. “I don’t care whether something contains concentrated fruit juice, brown sugar, honey or HFCS. The only better sweetener option is ‘none of the above.’”

At EatingWell, it’s our philosophy to keep any sweeteners we use in our recipes to a minimum—and likewise, to limit processed foods with added sugars of any type, including HFCS. We recommend you do the same.

Did you know?

The corn syrup found on supermarket shelves is only a distant cousin to the high-fructose corn syrup used commercially. Both start by processing corn starch with enzymes and/or acids, but the HFCS process is much more complex and results in a different chemical structure.

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COMMENTS POSTEDsort icon

Does anyone else get a gel-like substance in your mouth after drinking cocaine-cola?

Anonymous

03/08/2016 - 4:49pm

The problem with HFCS is that it is in most things that are indeed enjoyable. Why would we want to give up a delicious Dr. Pepper or Sprite? Arizona Teas are amazing and cheap. I am capable of going without that stuff. For me? I lack sugar in my body since I rarely consume any sugary goodness. I will have one of those tiny Gatorade's a day to keep my balance. It's always been said over and over again, in moderation anything is okay. The problem with HFCS is that it's actually addicting. It gets people hooked on sodas and caffeine doesn't help, it just makes it much more addicting. The proof is in the people, how many people do you see walking around on a daily bases that are obese and still buying 24 packs of soda? Doesn't matter if it's diet. Still bad for you. The best alternative people can go to is carbonated water with any kid of flavoring to put into it, the problem? It's expensive. It's much more convenient to purchase a coke from 7-11 One day people will learn somehow to use better alternatives. There is no point in loading your body with all those horribly delicious beverages.

Anonymous

01/27/2016 - 11:15pm

Fructose also raises the blood pressure, I did not know that so now I have to watch my sugar intake and what kind of sugar I can have. I removed most salt from my diet and am eating more vegetables. I also have to stop smoking all together. That is the hardest thing I have found to stop doing.

Anonymous

10/01/2015 - 4:35pm

Should I really care how healthy HFCS is. My standard is if it's good I eat it.

Anonymous

07/29/2015 - 12:03pm

Eats Austin Peanut Butter Crackers as I read this. Whoops! I mean....

Anonymous

07/07/2015 - 3:02pm

Any educated person in a higher economic bracket will tell you they DO NOT consume anything with HFCS
in it. The facts are out there. Any food label with HFCS in it, is a red flag for highly processed crap.

Anonymous

Anonymous

07/01/2015 - 8:33pm

its hard to eat things with out high fructose corn syrup because its in some much

Anonymous

05/07/2015 - 10:47am

Good comments - I'm 70 yrs old - I pretty well follow the guidelines of no sugary drinks (juice or pop), keep carbs low, no artificial sweeteners - and if high fructose is on the label - just say NO (amazing the ways they sneak it in: "corn syrup" "glucose/fructose" etc.) - BTW just checked a brand of spaghetti sauce - first ingredient - sugar - what!??

I'm just back from a month hiking (and eating) in Europe to hear that yet another of my contemporaries has died (heart - younger than me) food-wise he was "mainstream" - lots of carbs, drank pop, tried to reduce by using diet drinks - his weight and health just got worse and worse - now he's gone. There are others too - I feel sad (and blessed) but I also avoid the foods that "poisoned" my friends - HFCS being the main baddie.

Anonymous

05/02/2015 - 10:08am

What a load of BS. Check your chemistry fool. Natural sugar is made of bonded pairs of sucrose and fructose. HFCS has un-bonded pairing. When you digest natural sugar your enzymes work to slowly break down these chemical bonds and introduce sucrose and fructose into the blood more gradually. When you ingest HFCS the fructose and sucrose instantly bombard your kidneys and liver in a burst shot, that is both physiologically more damaging as well as more likely to induce addiction like behaviors.

Honestly, if you are going to run a website called "EatingWell" at least take five seconds to pretend you have read some actual published research on the subject.

Anonymous

02/18/2015 - 9:44pm

It's all GMO

Anonymous

02/11/2015 - 1:52pm

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