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.

Download a Free Cookbook with Our Best Healthy Dessert Recipes!


Cattle are fed CORN to fatten them up. Cattle are also fed corn because the government subsidizes farmers who grow corn which makes it CHEAP. Cattle get fatter when they are corn fed. The fat is interlocked in the meat. It cannot be separated from the meat and so they sell for more money because they sell by the weight.

Corn-feeding has another advantage: It keeps the assembly line moving steadily throughout the year. Grass becomes sparse during periods of drought and cold weather, which slows the growth of the calves. Corn is available year-round, allowing calves to gain as much weight in January as they do in June. The goal is to make them fat and corn is what does that.

As for HFCS...
It makes you fat. It does this in at least two or three separate ways.

HFCS is a fructose-glucose compound which contains an out of balance ratio of the 2 sugars. Depending on what you are consuming, you will have either HFCS 42 or HFCS 55. There is either a 5 or 6 molecule difference between the 2 sugars. This doesn't seem significant, but this is where part of the problem occurs. When you add up the amount of molecules per gram and the number of grams consumed in a typical day it becomes astronomical. There is HFCS in bread, ketchup, salad dressings, and almost every processed food that is made in a factory environment.

When fructose enters the stomach, it is not digested. Fructose travels through the digestive tract to the intestines where it is transported to the liver to be processed. The liver processes the fructose into glycerol which is the backbone of a trigliceride. Triglicerides are fat which travel in the blood and are stored as energy reserves that build up around the waist line and hips. Obese people all have one thing in common. They all have a high level of triglicerides in their blood. These triglicerides accumulate on the liver. This leads to a fatty liver which causes other foods to metabolize at a slower rate. When your metabolism slows down, you become lethargic and your body does not burn energy efficiently. It becomes difficult to rid yourself of the fat build up even with exercise. Due to a lower metabolic rate, you will become tired very fast. The mass of an overweight body takes more effort to overcome inertia and it is a never ending cycle that leads to more weight gain.

Most processed foods also have MSG or monosodium glutamate. MSG confuses the leptin receptors in the brain. This causes you to think that you need more food which leads to more eating, more HFCS, and more weight gain.

Fructose is a naturally occurring compound that can be found in fruit like apples and oranges. The concentration of fructose in fruit is less than one tenth of the total weight of the fruit. If you eat 1 or 2 pieces of fruit in one day the amount of fructose consumed will still be insignificant.
Fruit also contains pectin, however, which causes short chain fatty acids to be liberated in the intestines. This produces leptin which prevents your body from absorbing too much fat and suppresses your appetite. The triglicerides that are made from the fructose in an apple are eliminated and cholesterol absorption is also reduced. Fruit is not an unhealthy source of fructose. Too much fruit is like anything else in excess. Moderation is the key. It is true what they say about an apple a day.

Concentrated fructose is not something that is found in nature and the human body is not adapted to accommodate this substance. There is a new product that is now coming onto the scene called agave nectar. This is not a natural substance either. It is actually a higher dosage of high fructose corn syrup. Instead of calling it agave nectar, they should name it higher high fructose corn syrup. It looks the same, but it has a difference of 40 molecules which makes it 6.67 to 8 times more toxic than HFCS!


07/05/2012 - 7:12am

My concern about HFCS is that many times it is not the only sweetner in the product. I have read labels where there was sguar, corn syrup and high fructose syrup in the product. OUCH!! Now, that is a lot of sugar. That is why I always try to read the labels before buying the product. Once when I bought chocolate milk for instance, it had HFCS in it, it tasted slimy to me, so I bought the brand without the HFCS and it tasted much better. I guess that is one persons opinion, but none the less check your labels, it helps.


07/04/2012 - 6:16pm

Quote, , ,Genetically modified plants grown from seeds engineered in laboratories now provide much of the food Americans eat. Most corn, soybean and cotton crops grown in the United States have been genetically modified to resist pesticides or insects, and corn and soy are common food ingredients.. . .USDA estimated that 70 percent of U.S. corn acreage was planted with herbicide-tolerant corn and 63 percent had been planted with insect-resistant seeds. Rates for soybeans and cotton are even higher.....Corn - There are two main varieties of GE corn. One has a Gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis inserted to produce the Bt toxin, which poisons Lepidoteran (moths and butterflies) pests.[2] There are also several events which are resistant to various herbicide. Present in high fructose corn syrup " end of quote.


07/04/2012 - 12:30pm

If any of you hippies were living in a third world country, you wouldn't give a crap about any of this. find something better to cry about!


06/30/2012 - 7:04pm

Corn is used to make cattle fatter. Farmers in Argentina, who were interested in selling their meat to Americans, started feeding cattle corn, so they would be fatter. Fattier beef is more appealing to Americans, this is why Argentine farmers who export their beef to the States, now feed their cattle corn.


06/30/2012 - 2:49am

To the person who said corn makes you fat and corn is fed to cattle to make them fat:
Where did you receive your degree in nutrition? After all of that schooling how did you manage to also receive a degree in animal nutrition. Corn has been a staple part of mans diet since the beginning of time, long before obesity was an issue. Furthermore corn is not fed to cattle to make them fat. Farmers do not make money on fat. The more fat, the less $ per pound. I could go on and on. Say what you want about HFCS but leave agriculture itself out of it. Farming produces some of the very few made-in-america products. Ignorance is way worse than HFCS, just my opinion.


06/28/2012 - 9:18am

You are what you eat. If you eat like a corn fed cow you will look like one too!


06/25/2012 - 3:57pm

Nobody would put 9 teaspoons of sugar in tea .. So this argument doesn't stand up.
HFCs are there in sodas to cover up what ?? If they have to put 9 teaspoons of sugar in it to make it palatable .. What the heck are they hiding ?! Come on people wake up !!


06/24/2012 - 7:43pm

The brain needs GLUCOSE and oxygen, not fructose. Fructose has no purpose in the body and has to be processed by the liver. The more the liver has to process fructose, the less it can process other toxins in the body,and the hardthater it has to work, the sooner it will quit working. The more toxins we have in our bodies, the more susceptible we are to diseases; obesity, diabetes, cancer, you name it.


06/23/2012 - 11:09am

HFCS actually makes a person want to eat more. For some reason it makes us feel like continuing to eat.
I am not sure if it has something to do with the brain to stomach to cravings not being coming satisfied?
I have read this and I avoid HFCS at all costs. I like Stevia or natural cane crystals Organic of course.
Corn anything makes a person and animal FAT. Why do you think it is fed to cattle to fatten them up is why.


06/22/2012 - 7:09am

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