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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i was told this hfcs was very bad for diabetics. is this true or just eat normally with it?


11/01/2012 - 12:50pm

Is it true that it sits as fat and never goes away? I hear that high fructose corn syrup is cheaper that real sugar so many companies use it instead.


10/30/2012 - 3:57pm

Nothing is healthier, as far as sweeteners, than honey, followed by non-refined sugar from cane.

Economic interest is not a good guidline to nutrition, nor to health.

The stomach IS NOT a microscope.


10/21/2012 - 8:39pm

I have to say this is interesting, I noticed after I graduated high school in 1987 I began to have seizures.
I still had the same diet and doctors put me on different meds that really did no good. Roughly 11 years later in 1998 I recall an accident I had in West Virginia early in the morning leaving a motel with my children in the backseat. I just called my mother and told her we were on our way home to Connecticut.I. just finished drinking a pepsi for the caffiene and less than thirty minutes later I passed out at the wheel. I
Hit a jersey barrier and woke up three minutes later with my children standing outside with a man who stopped to help me. Everytime I drank a softdrink I would get a slight lighthead ad sometimes I would just go take a nap. In 1999 my mother and I investigated natural foods diets and natural medicine. I sometimes slipped away but in 2009 I became very overweight and ill and lost my job but sought the help of the religious community I belonged to,where I learned that pretty much everything we eat must be cooked from scratch or is approved to be eaten for health or medicinal benefits. I weighed 238lbs in 2009 when I completely went by the religious dietary laws I lost 40 lbs in 18 months. Most of the food we eat does not contain high fructose corn syrup. I pretty much gave up soda a long time ago and drink tea or other drinks
I mix with sugar or honey. When I shop I have to read the label.


10/15/2012 - 4:16pm

maybe its true


10/13/2012 - 2:10pm

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

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

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

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

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

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