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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

How to make orange juice...
Squeeze fresh oranges
enjoy.

Why do companies even think to put 10 ingredients in something that nature already made perfectly. A lot of things do not even need HFCS because they're inherently sweet, so why is it in there? I don't know if I agree with the bias-riddled "science" saying that HFCS is all natural and even healthy sugar for your body. It's like Cocaine from Corn. It's the next asbestos just waiting to happen... It was the perfect cheap insulation until we discovered how dangerous it was. "Oh wow, here's a really cheap sugar we can use for everything... until they find out it causes cancer and birth defects" says big industry.

It's not only about which sugar to use. It's about using any adorning ingredients at all... MSG, Aspartame, HFCS, Soy Lecithin, Maltodextrin... The list goes on. We are forced to eat food-like product instead of just growing things and eating them like our ancestors did for centuries without many problems. How can we figure out scientific dog food formulas that make my dog strong, lean, and have a shiny coat... but the human diet has been so neglected. I don't want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but I do feel like there is more going on here than meets the eye. Henry Ford built a Model-T car out of plastic made from Hemp, which is much stronger and lighter than steel, and it ran on Hemp fuel. Big oil companies came in and vilified Hemp as a drug. It may be related to a drug, but industrial hemp is not at all possible to use in that way. DuPont and other companies banned together to shut down every idea that did not include using their products for everything... messed up. That's what capitalism gets you. Maybe there's something going on with the companies that produce HFCS. Why are the companies that just make regular food forced to put special labels on their products saying they are organic and so on. It should be the other way around. Their products are just food, as you would expect to buy it. It should read... "Genetically Modified, Chemically Enhanced, Preserved Ketchup" Forget the FDA, you really think they're out to help you?

"If the people let government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny." - Thomas Jefferson

Anonymous

03/10/2013 - 1:05pm

corn syrup is so bad for you as it comes from corn, but it's NOT natural corn but GMO corn which the latest studies show that it leads to cancer
(just search on google or youtube)
you will be shocked

Anonymous

03/10/2013 - 3:55am

A difference of 10% is not "identical." Where does the extra 10% go that cannot be metabolized? Don't listen to propaganda from processed food companies that would have you sick and obese so the pharmaceutical companies will get richer.
Give up high fructose corn syrup and anything that it is in. Give up artificial chocolate with PGPR (Polyglycerol Polyricinoleate). Say goodby to Hershey's and any other company that thinks making things artificial will make them richer.
We need to love our children enough to feed them real foods.

Anonymous

03/09/2013 - 9:21pm

I agree with the rest of the anonymous commentators. It may be chemically equivalent to normal sugar or sucrose; however if the corn that the HFCS derives from is GMO corn then it can cause a hormone imbalance* which even though may be the same calories as regular sugar causes are bodies to act abnormally. Delete this article, you were probably paid to post this.

Anonymous

03/06/2013 - 2:53pm

Your body does NOT process it like it is sugar. It doesn't know how to deal with it since it is foreign. What happens is it sits inside you and becomes cellulite. Look at the saddlebags on everyone these days. The boobies on men. There is fat in strange places. The world is drowning in the folds of their own bodies.

Anonymous

03/06/2013 - 1:06pm

Sugar is not so bad - in small quantities; however, with HFCS you can add the sugar to most everything and thereby greatly increase the total ingestion of sugars. This may be good if you are engaged is strenuous physical activity, but if your activity is video games, you will gradually be transformed into part of your couch and take a potato shape. Sucrose is composed of dextrose (glucose) and fructose. The dextrose can be readily used by your cells for energy, but the fructose is a bit different. Fructose must first go to the liver for modifications before it can be utilized. Excess fructose is also more readily incorporated into fat than is dextrose. Too bad! The corn syrup stars out as potentially dextrose, but then the dextrose is not sweet enough, so the corn industry enzymatically converts about half of the dextrose to fructose. (Fructose is much sweeter than Dextrose). Recently, work has been published to the effect that the obesity epidemic is more close tied to our consumption of sugar - that it is to our consumption of fat.

Anonymous

03/05/2013 - 4:11pm

If you have HFCS you will gain a lot of weight
-Anonymous

Anonymous

02/28/2013 - 9:56am

Don't eat HFCS!

Anonymous

02/26/2013 - 2:41pm

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.

Anonymous

02/21/2013 - 1:32am

Uh-huh
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
WAKE UP AMERICA AND GET OUTTA YOUR DREAM WORLD
WE DO NOT HAVE ENDLESS WATER AND RESOURCES TO WASTE
STOP THINKING EVERYTHING CAN BE YOURS
CHANGE YOUR WAYS, THEY AIN'T GONNA WORK (you too fellow Canadians, no miracle's gonna happen)

-ms.hackmetopeices

Anonymous

02/17/2013 - 3:54pm

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