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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

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 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

Sugar tastes better!!!!

Anonymous

09/26/2013 - 4:01pm

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 - 4:17pm

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

Anonymous

11/04/2013 - 1:31pm

Well since it's corn, we can assume it's GMO right?

Anonymous

11/04/2013 - 8:24pm

IMO, the general population would way better off if they just moved around a little more and watched their caloric intake a little bit. Whether the sugar is from cane, corn or beets, just take it easy on the sweets and massive caloric intakes in general! Food is cheap and tastes good and tv and Internet are nice ways to sit on our butts and it should be common sense that it will make us fat. It seems like for years, people let the simple phrase "diet and exercise" go in one ear and out the other...it's easier to just blame the food itself. It's kinda funny, America spends a smaller % of their income on food than most other countries because we actually have life pretty good yet I have a vague feeling that we complain about every aspect of life more than most.

Anonymous

11/22/2013 - 3:44am

It sounds like this article was written by the corn industry itself. Since there are so many things about HFCS that are worse than sugar, it appears that Joyce Hendley is a shill for Archer Daniels Midland. How about trace amounts of mercury and other toxins in HFCS? Or the fact that the fructose and sucrose molecules in HFCS are not bound together as they are in natural sugar and therefore are absorbed that much more quickly by the body? Do just the minutest amount of research on Google and you will see why Joyce Hendley comes across as dishonest.

Anonymous

02/26/2014 - 1:13pm

It seems difficult to find anything anymore without high fructose corn syrup in it. Not to mention if healthier food wasn't so expensive, it would also be easier to make healthier choices. As for my family and me, I try to buy organic foods as often as possible and try to avoid anything with high fructose corn syrup in it. Occassionally, I will crave a sprite, but eating healthy is very important to me. (Again, it would just be easier if the healthier foods were a little more affordable.)

Anonymous

Anonymous

04/14/2014 - 1:50pm

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