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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

It is a simple fact that the human body is designed to metabolize and digest natural substances and solids. That being said anything ("man made" in a lab) is unnatural and shouldn't ever be ingested to begin with! The human body is a very complex "machine" as it were, that runs completely on chemicals and depends on the balance of them. If we change the chemicals that are consumed by our bodies we change the way our body uses them. We can actually trick our bodies in to doing something we don't want it to do; like store fat when we don't need to.
At my work there are about 100 employees most of which consume soda on a daily basis about 85%. Of that 85% about 90% are over weight. They range anywhere from 20 pounds over weight to 140 pounds over weight. Now out of the 10% of soda drinkers that are not over weight most are under the age of 25. Of the 90% who do drink soda and are over weight about 95% are over the age of 30. It may not be a scientific experiment but it is true.
Unfortunately these processed chemicals are in just about everything we eat. What can we do? Boycott any product that contains these poisons! Well ok maybe not all of them we do have to eat you know. Most of them we can avoid or at least cut back on. Grow a garden buy local grown beef from a butcher things like that.
Here is a final thought America is no longer the tallest country in the world! Denmark is with China coming in third! How is that possible? It is possible because of the chemicals and hormones in the food we eat that trick our bodies into growth spurts prematurely! Look around you at the young boys and girls are they as tall as you were when you were 4,7, 10, or 12. Chances are they are taller than you were and they will stop growing before you stopped growing.

Anonymous

11/12/2010 - 6:36pm

I read somewhere that there are people that are 'immune' to becoming fat. I used to seriously abuse all kinds of sugar yet never grew fat. I do not exercise much or participate in any sports. Yet I feel quite healthy and I haven't been seriously ill for the last fifteen years. Are there exceptions? Could it be that my body has a different metabolism?
I am also diagnosed ADHD but I do like it. My mother says she ate a lot of aspartame when she was pregnant.

Anonymous

11/12/2010 - 8:31am

It disgusts me that the FDA allows products like this to be included in foods. I try to avoid it, and luckily now more companies are making products without it. Unfortunately though, most people are unaware of the dangers and continue to eat highly processed foods. Its up to us to research what we're putting in our bodies, because the FDA couldn't care less.

Anonymous

10/23/2010 - 4:28pm

the complex structure of HFCS is what makes it worse than regular table sugar. The fact that it's man made and chemically altered affects the way the body metabolizes it. The problem with HFCS is that you find it in basically everything these days... especially food directed towards children. When you see the second ingredient is high fructose corn syrup (on products such as fruit juices), can you honestly say you would give this to your child on a regular basis? I know I wouldn't. Research shows that HFCS favors the body 's metabolic fat-making pathways, setting the stage for accumulation of excess body fat.

Anonymous

10/22/2010 - 1:25am

I heard they said it makes yous go insane. That's why, right?

Anonymous

10/16/2010 - 10:52pm

At 22 I suddenly began getting hives, which worsened to swelling (first my lips, then my tongue, and then my throat would begin to swell shut). This all progressed within a month. The doctors tested me and said i had no food allergies, and all they could give me was an EPI pen. It was only after a strict elimination diet that I began to realize that corn was the culprit. Eliminating all corn from my diet was literally impossible. I soon found out that almost everything I ate was somehow derived from corn. Potato chips, sugar-free ice cream, vinegar, pizza, sour cream, bread, shredded cheese, crackers, and alcohol were some of the foods I learned "the hard way" usually had corn in them. In addition, food packages, IV solutions, waxes on fresh fruits, and pills are often made with corn. For me, the more broken down the corn is, the worse my reaction. Ex: Corn starch=hives; Dextrose from corn=anaphylaxis. I still get hives many days and swelling every few weeks due to "accidents" in what I eat.

I fully believe that the extreme manipulation of corn into products like high-fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, modified food starch, and dextrose is a big problem for our society. With corn in almost everything, it is quickly becoming a common allergy, just as wheat did in its days of over-use. However, corn is in even more products than wheat, and in hundreds of different forms. Most companies I talk to don't even seem to know if their products are made with any corn derivatives. Read some of your food labels... do you know what half those ingredients are? I still don't know many of them! How can we monitor what we eat, and try to eat sugars and fats in moderation, when companies are finding new ways to disguise forms of sugar, and "low fat" and "sugar-free" foods are full of processed garbage. Even so-called "health food" contains outrageous ingredients like"organic-maltodextrin".

I am obviously biased because of my allergy, but I say, leave corn alone as corn, and leave sugar beets and sugar cane to making sugar!

Anonymous

10/15/2010 - 10:54pm

Weight loss is very simple. Calories consumed > Calories used = weight gain
Calories consumed < Calories used = weight loss

The formula is relatively simple. Americans consume way to many calories, and lead a sedentary lifestyle. In the 70's you had three channels and kids played outside. Now most children watch hours of T.V. and play hours of video games. Same for adults.

Anonymous

09/22/2010 - 10:17pm

Just don't eat it! Some many things have high-fructose corn syrup today, that's the reason for obesity. Rice Crispies used to not have it but now it does because high-frutose corn syrup is cheaper than sugar. Imagine the obesity population in 20 years or so, it will be out of this world!

Anonymous

09/04/2010 - 10:59am

I believe if you were to eat small amounts of it, it's not that harmful but most americans take in more than you should. So they have figured out that, that may be whats causing americas, Cancer, & Obesity so the really only important and wise thing to do is just not eat it.
-Anonymous

Anonymous

08/25/2010 - 5:11pm

i say eat you only live once and how do we really know what is and is not healthy now days people is getting poisoned from a bag of lettuce come on now just pray more and it will be ok god is good!!!

Anonymous

08/20/2010 - 5:01pm

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