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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

Hfcs uses a process that requires small amounts of very harmful chemicals to acquire the end result

Anonymous

11/21/2011 - 12:04am

For Lent I gave up anything that had HFCS. I had to read a lot of labels and found that I could not eat most processed foods. I also found that I lost weight, almost 20 pounds in the 40 days of Lent. After Lent I found that I could tell if something had HFCS because the food had a funny after taste. I also found that I gained back the weight I had lost and add some more! Try it and see if the same thing happens to you.

Anonymous

11/20/2011 - 4:43am

HFCS should be avoided as much as possible. Also Americans should realize that when soda was first
invented people used to drink it as a treat on special occasions. Americans have to get away from soda's
and highly process food. They need to start reading labels and ingredient and buy better food so that
food companies will switch back to regular ingredients.

Anonymous

11/18/2011 - 10:14pm

our sugar here is refined, it is not natural sugarcane sugar because sugarcane sugar is a light brown not white so to me all forms of sugar in the us is bad for you. especially man made sugar i don,t eat anything with high fructose syrup in it and to me it tastes like poison.

Anonymous

11/30/2010 - 4:11pm

Hey Joyce,
This article of yours infuriates me and I'm sure the rest of the educated world as well. Not all sugar is the same. HFCS has been proven to aid in weight gain in comparison to regular sugar, by tricking our bodies into storing extra fat unnecessarily. Along with this, as other comenters have said, HFCS attributes to cancer. This is brief, and I would just like to say this:
To those of you who look at food like its something simple and not worth learning more about, you are missing the big picture. You are hurting yourself, and contributing to American obesity, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, and more.

Anonymous

11/27/2010 - 5:12pm

I avoid high fructose corn syrup, as a new study shows that rats eating the same amount of calories per day, with one group eating sugar and the other high fructose corn syrup caused the group to be eating the HFCS to have significant weight gains and abnormal increases in body fat. (http://www.grist.org/article/researchers-yes.-hfcs-is-much-worse-than-table-sugar)

Anonymous

11/18/2010 - 10:57am

I noticed one day that my Dr. Pepper said "With Real Sugar".The government pays companies to put HFCS in their food because we don't have to in port it so it's cheaper. This being said a small amount of HFCS is fine in the place of sugar but it doesn't process right when you have to much and the body usually turns it into fat. Now i'm not saying that sugar is healthy for you but it is sure better than HFCS. Anyhow i find it inevitable that it's going to be in everything as long as the government pays these companies.

Anonymous

11/17/2010 - 6:36pm

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

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