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!


HFCS was invented to sweeten products at a lower cost. It is unknown what all the effects it causes in human body. The evidences so far gathered have been paid for by the vested interests and business and politics. We can only see the evidence of bad health among people. In any case, in the absense of any positive evidence it should be treated like a toxic waste. It is not food but a slow poison.

The excuse of science for HFCS is not valid. There is little understanding among scientists about how the body actually uses food nutrients and how the body is genetically wired to respond to them.


09/23/2012 - 7:32am

Watch "the world according to Monsanto". It's not only that the HFCS is un-natural and therefore should not be consumed but the GMO corn it is made from kills livestock and test animals and is banned on many countries... Greed is the reason.


09/27/2012 - 2:23pm

This is my own personal opinion and It all comes down to the speculators to inflate the price of corn. A commodity to pump into the food chain and to make a lot of people rich along the way. HFCS is what you get and depend on. Eventually the truth is brought to light and the truth is people are dying of obesity and diabeties caused by this toxin.


09/30/2012 - 12:56am

i want the real facts. We all know HFCS isn't good for you


09/30/2012 - 2:07pm

we are gaining weight because we eat too much. getting skin cancer is from too much sun exposure, and the sun is not a bad thing! we are blaming the foods we eat becasue we dont want to blame ourselves plain and simple. if we wanted to we could actually eat what we want just in moderation with the right amount of exersize. blaming fooods like high fructose corn syrup for obesity is not the answer.


10/03/2012 - 2:32pm

if this is bad why is FDA not doing anything to stop manufacturers from adding this bad stuff into the commercial food we buy?


10/03/2012 - 4:58pm

HFCS isn't responisble for what people put in their mouths. Replacing HFCS with sugar isn't going to change the outcome of terrible dietary choices. We don't gain weight because we like HFCS too much, we gain weight because we eat too much period. Always gotta blame something other than ourselves, zero accountability, as usual.


10/04/2012 - 4:13am

Come on people, stop reading ignorant blogs and get some real information. Especially the person talking about sucrose. Sucrose is a disaccharide molecule that contains one glucose molecule attached to one fructose molecule. Therefore humans have been digesting fructose for "1500 years" (a lot longer than that my friend). If you eat table sugar, half of the energy contained in that sugar comes from fructose. The problem is that government subsidies have made corn derived fructose very cheap. Cheap products get consumed in abundance. People are eating too much sugar, period, which will always lead to health problems. The problem is not fructose, it is overconsumption of sugar, whether it be sucrose, fructose, maltose, lactose etc. High fructose corn syrup is the cheapest, therefore it gets consumed the most.


10/04/2012 - 7:10pm

I want the government to tell me what to do. Gotta love liberals. If you don't want to eat HFCS, stop eating it. It's your choice. Don't make the govt do it for you.


10/06/2012 - 7:35am

maybe its true


10/13/2012 - 2:10pm

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