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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

high-fructose corn syrup so slows you down!! Sugar is way better!

Anonymous

11/04/2013 - 1:31pm

Sugar tastes better!!!!

Anonymous

09/26/2013 - 4:17pm

HFCS is less satisfying.....because it does not taste as good as regular sugar!!!

Anonymous

09/26/2013 - 4:07pm

Sugar tastes better!!!!

Anonymous

09/26/2013 - 4:01pm

I usually eat really organic, minimum meat, no dairy/eggs, always whole grain, lots of fresh produce, etc. but today I have a really bad sore throat (not sure if it's strep) and I'm really craving Halls cough drops. I know they're filled with artificial junk like HFCS, if I get them once in a while is it still really bad?

Anonymous

08/20/2013 - 12:30pm

well never knew about all this till yesterday after watching a program in the uk, its made me think to stay aways from sweet fizzy drinks as a start anyway.

Anonymous

08/09/2013 - 3:15am

I never really drank soda, or had fast food, until I moved back to the US. My yearly medically always came back great, then I started fast food lunches, and lots of soda well it wasn't long before I started feeling the effects, with weight, I had never been over 195lb no matter what I ate, large breakfast's, big healthy lunches, and a good sized dinners, I started eating less yet gaining weight, the the heart attack.

I cannot say it was due to HFCS, but it seems likely.

Anonymous

07/24/2013 - 9:20pm

In Australia we use sugar not corn syrup. We still have a major obesity problem. I dont know which is more dangerous in excess but arguably the end result is similar. Frank Qld.

Anonymous

07/09/2013 - 5:23pm

Thank you for the very well-written and to-the-point answer! It's great to find this bit of wisdom in the sea of exaggeration and misinformation. The key is to avoid excess sugar in any form. And especially avoid sweetened drinks, because our body doesn't register fullness from calories consumed in beverages the same way as it does calories consumed as solids.

Now that's not to say that HFCS is not bad. The energy cost to produce it is high, yet government subsidies make it artificially inexpensive. Because it's inexpensive, it is added to many foods (mostly highly processed foods), which are therefore also artificially inexpensive.

People seem to have the right instinct—HFCS is Bad—but their stated reasons for their opinions are largely nonsense. Since the nonsense that's being batted about is leading people down the right path (don't consume HFCS), maybe I shouldn't worry about it. But I'd like to see people hone their critical thinking skills, and maybe even learn to go to the primary literature and see what the data says.

Anonymous

06/14/2013 - 4:18pm

"But when it comes right down to it, a sugar is a sugar is a sugar. "

This is simply not true and there is scientific evidence out there to prove it comparing the effects of fructose vs glucose on insulin responses. Fructose stimulates a much stronger insulin response. It also seems that something about fructose with a large meal stimulates fat storage much more than normal glucose does. All the results make sense with the outcomes of diabetes and obesity being correlated to fructose over consumption as a result of it being put into everything.

Anonymous

05/30/2013 - 10:40pm

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