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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

I have a HFCs intolerance. It's were the monocles are to big for my body to process. So if it's so good for you why do some peoples body's not process it right and I think it's a little fish how the obesity rate has gone up since they they have started adding it to everything. And yes I have been told of my HFCs intolerance from a doctor after a series of test.

Anonymous

01/18/2012 - 11:50pm

If I eat something with high fructose corn syrup in it I generally throw up a bunch of phlegm in the next 20 minutes call it an allergy or whatever but I call it trashy food. HFCS is in nearly every soft drink, it's in chocolate milk much of the time. At mcdonald's it is in nearly everything from pancake syrup to orange juice. There is nothing appealing about corn syrup other than it's cost and every manufacturer seems to be skittish about why they have it in their product.

Try this:

Pick your favorite soft drink and write the manufacturer or try to internet research to find out the year they switched from sugar to corn syrup in their product. You will NOT find any information about this. It seems to me that if it is not a bad practice they would not be so adamant about hiding the year in which they started doing it.

What I do is simply stop buying cheap, processed, junky food with high fructose corn syrup in it because it makes me sick and often contains mercury which is a neurotoxin.

regards

Anonymous

12/24/2011 - 1:59pm

The problem lies with both HFCS and sugar. Both HFCS and sugar should be avoided. When consumed at chronic levels they will devastate your health. Both contain fructose and chronic consumption of fructose is the leading cause of obesity, high triglycerides, high VLDL and low HDL and leads to type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other metabolic syndrome related illnesses. I know first hand. After years of degrading health, my doctor put me on a no HFCS, minimal added sugar, and only whole grain diet. With these diet modifications, I cut my triglycerides by 42%, I increased my HDL by 30%, halved my VLDL, dropped my overall cholesterol and drop 20 pounds without intending to lose weight. To celebrate my new found health I'll occasionally wear something from my closet from the eighties because it now fits over the fashion protest from my wife.

Anonymous

12/10/2011 - 3:30pm

i tend to agree that sugar itself is not the problem. what i seem to witness is that the quality and taste of the foodstuffs to which the sugar is added, and in particular dirt cheap HFCS, is inferior so as to require what the food business professionals like to call "flavour enhancers"! human's ability to taste has been simplified to five basic senses: sweet, bitter, sour, salty, and the last one, the je n'est c'est quoi of flavour, umami. umami is the i wonder why of flavour as it cant be categorized in the first four. well, take a look at processed foods....you can almost certainly identify the sweet -HFCS and the salty-salt/sodium chloride. so step back...what are the food processors trying to do? simply sell you tasteless food (cause after processing inferior product there's no flavour left), with their added flavour. americans, and in growing numbers other nations, are litterly fattened for the slaughter. we deserve what we get.

Anonymous

11/21/2011 - 12:08pm

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

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