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

By Joyce Hendley, M.S., 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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I have become allergic to all corn except organically grown corn. I suspect that it is the GMO corn that is the problem. It may also be the GMO corn that is made into hfcs that is a problem.


01/05/2013 - 8:44pm

I'm 36 yrs old now and last year I was told that my sugar was high. I've been getting my blood work done every year for a long time,and all of a sudden my sugar is up.I have been drinking water for a week now,and my glucose level has went from 200+ to 300+ all the way down to 136 from not drinking sodas.Look I was drinking diet sodas for a while too,and that was not helping my sugar levels at all,and if you didn't know "the aspartame in diet sodas and other diet products causes cancer"look it up , you will be shocked at what the FDA has been letting food and soda company's put in what we eat and drink.I'm sorry to tell my fellow Americans that our gov't and other country's are using these things to keep the population under control.And what are we going to do about it,we have to eat,maybe we all could start growing our own veggies and livestock,but most of the population can't do that,so we are stuck eating food that will end our life yrs. early. In the Bible it says that our life could be 120 yrs,why is there hardly anyone in the world getting close to that age? Think about it Anonymous


01/04/2013 - 3:16pm

I understand that there is a connection between HFCS and pancreatic cancer. Could this be because our body does not metabolize HFCS?
Also, I recently had Coca Cola manufactured in Mexico. It was sweetened with pure sugar ---- no HFCS.
Why is American made Coca Cola loaded with HFCS? Also other soda.
I also have noticed that some products now have on their labels "NO HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP". There must be a reason that companies point out to the consumer that their product does NOT contain HFCS. Ocean Spray juices have it on their label "NO HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP" Heinz has also come out with a new ketchup - the label says SIMPLY HEINZ. This does not contain HFCS like other ketchups do.
As for me, I am reading labels and will not purchase for consumption any product that contains HFCS.
I wish all companies would go back to using natural sugar to sweeten their products. I have gone on a mission to call companies and request they stop using HFCS. Everybody should do this. HFCS is bad for you, and it is not easy to avoid it.


01/01/2013 - 11:57pm

HFCS is a cheap man-made product that is not metabolized by the human body. It goes straight to the liver, just like alcohol and turns into fat!! And that is why sooo many young children today are obese and have type 2 diabetes. HFCS is in everything, starting with infant formula! Get them addicted, the younger the better, then send them straight to Head Start! We all know breast feeding is best and NO child needs to drink 'juice' which is just expensive sugar water or I should say HFCS water! Search Lustig and watch his videos about HFCS, excellent!


12/26/2012 - 9:38pm

Yes it is bad for you. 4 years ago I realized that I am allergic to HFCS (it causes me adult acne and I'd bet that most adults with acne has it because of HFCS). So, I stopped drinking soda, and pretty much started drinking 3 plus glasses of fruit juice per day, so my caloric intake did not decrease. After about a year of this I weighed myself and noticed I lost 10 pounds! I was already thin so this was not good for me. I then began eating lots of peanut butter to make up for the difference and within a few months I gained the weight back. The point is, getting off of HFCS caused me to lose 10 pounds without even trying (no reduction in calories consumed). My guess is the average overweight person could lose 10-15 pounds a year just avoiding HFCS. Considering health care costs are so high because of it (which effects us all) HFCS should be illegalized.


12/11/2012 - 10:49pm

like what is found in dairy products ,fish with edible bones and dark green vegetalbes


12/10/2012 - 1:19pm

I've just been told about a long time friend who is in his fifties, diabetic, lost one leg and is going blind. I'm not a scientist or a doctor. It seems to me the path of revelation about the health effects of HFCS is following that of tobacco use. I'm not going to be surprised when it's revealed that HFCS is the trigger key to a swath of ailments. If you were a doctor finishing your career at the end of the nineteenth century you'd probably never have come across a case of lung cancer. The adoption of smoking as an acceptable (even desired) social norm and the development of methods to mass produce cigarets, we now know, are directly responsible for millions of lung cancer cases and heart failures.
Thirty five years ago, HFCS became the option adopted by the processed food industries. Why not, it was better than sugar in many ways. I think time will show there is some element in HFCS that triggers an addictive behavior. Eat and keep eating. The graph of obesity and the adoption of HFCS is probably like a set of rail road tracks going into the sky. Just like the cases of Lung Cancer and the mass production and distribution of cigarets

If the public have to pick up the tab for medical treatment, should the public have a degree of authority to limit behaviors of people that cause those very medical problems and their expenses? Governments consider restrictions all the time in the name of public health. Should there be a roaring debate about HFCS now? I think so, today, before the sun sets.


12/10/2012 - 3:09am

Fructose isn't the problem, it's the large amount that's consumed and the fact that corn is not a very healthy for you to start with. Corn is loaded with mycotoxins and corn syrup is in a lot of food and beverages. The more you consume the more damage it will do.


12/09/2012 - 3:24am

If HCFS and sugar do the same thing, then why do we so often see products that have HCFS plus sugar in their ingredients. Why not just use 100% HFCS -- or 100% sugar? I see a combination of HFCS and sugar all the time in the products I regularly buy. This makes me think that HFCS and sugar have somewhat different effects -- otherwise, why would manufacturers choose to use both?


11/29/2012 - 3:08pm

Like everything else on the face of the planet... Moderation.


11/28/2012 - 11:57am

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