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.

Download a Free Cookbook with Our Best Healthy Dessert Recipes!


People don't understand that every time you put table sugar in your food you raise the risk of many health problems. Eating whole foods ,growing your own so that your not getting GMOs is the first step. 80-90% of ALL corn, soy and cotton grown in the USA is genetically modified. Look that up. And also check out all the u tube videos on GMOs nasty stuff. Washington state will be voting this fall on labeling all foods that contain GMOs . If you live in Washington please vote yes that all GMOs be labeled. We want real seeds not fake.


02/21/2013 - 12:32am

I've also heard that GMO corn causes cancer and has been banned in some countries in Europe
We should go back and live like the old ways. No pesticides. No GMO's. NO artificail preservatives -cause cancer and lower IQ's. NO livestock injected with growth hormones -kids are becoming adults faster.
No chemical fertilizers -destroys the soil.
If you're thinking the government, and the FDA will take care of all this in America, WAKE UP.
Why do you think all the harm causing stuff in banned in Europe FIRST?
The answer is simple. The way we were brought up. Not caring about others. Living in the present and not looking towards the future. IF THERE'S EVER GONNA BE A CHANGE, IT'S YOU
CHANGE YOUR WAYS, THEY AIN'T GONNA WORK (you too fellow Canadians, no miracle's gonna happen)



02/17/2013 - 2:54pm

HFCS is used in US soda, and not in Mexican soda because in the US sugar is more expensive than HFCS. In Mexico the opposite is true. How can that be?

Simple, the sugar lobby in the US was able to get crippling tarrifs placed on imported sugar. This is the same reason the Brachs candy company (and many others) moved their manufacturing from Chicago to Canada. It is cheaper to import the candy back to the US without the sugar tax once it has been manufactured.


02/17/2013 - 7:59am

the reason everyone is obese is not because of HFCS its their poor diet and them being lazy. All you people just sound like a bunch of hippies.


02/16/2013 - 6:15am

HFCS was created in the laboratory to make pigs and cattle fat for the market. They found it was sweet and decided to feed it to humans. It is not metabolized by the lever and goes directly to fat cells. The plant is located 11 miles from the FDA national headquarters. Seems odd?


02/05/2013 - 4:05am

Eat more vegies this cut be your answer for alot of you


01/24/2013 - 3:02pm

HFCS was created because it is a cheap subsitute for sugar. The corn industry claims that it is the same as sugar, but compared with HFCS sugar is a health food; both may make you fat, but at least natural sugar does not go right to your liver, like HFCS , alcohal and drugs. HFCS also contains mercury that is not regulated by the FDA and is one of the most toxic substances in existance; research also shows that comsuming HFCS will result in arthritis and gout, and many other health issues; beware the internet postings and TV commercials that the corn industry have spent millions of dollars on trying to claim that HFCS is the same as sugar, becuse that is just a lie, so they can continue using this cheap, harmful substance in so many products.


01/20/2013 - 11:21am

Ever wonder why HFCS is banned in Europe? Meanwhile, in the good ol' USA, industries, the FDA, and our government pretend that nothing's wrong... Once again, WAKE UP AMERICA


01/10/2013 - 12:28am

The FDA and government don't care about your health. They're in on the corruption in the food industry. In the end, it's all about money. Always has been, always will be. Get informed, get educated, make responsible decisions for your health. Stay away from the processed junk called "food" - you need to control what goes into your body, not manufacturers putting artificial chemicals that neither they, you, nor I can pronounce into our food.


01/09/2013 - 10:46pm

Since sugar comes from many sources and HFCS ultimitly comes from one source the reason its in even with sugar is so somone makes a buck. If sugar was the only thing in the foods the the ones that distribute HFCS would go broke.


01/09/2013 - 5:21pm

Get a full year of EatingWell magazine.
World Wide Web Health Award Winner Web Award Winner World Wide Web Health Award Winner Interactive Media Award Winner