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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

Yes it is bad for you. 4 years ago I realized that I am allergic to HFCS (it causes me adult acne and I'd bet that most adults with acne has it because of HFCS). So, I stopped drinking soda, and pretty much started drinking 3 plus glasses of fruit juice per day, so my caloric intake did not decrease. After about a year of this I weighed myself and noticed I lost 10 pounds! I was already thin so this was not good for me. I then began eating lots of peanut butter to make up for the difference and within a few months I gained the weight back. The point is, getting off of HFCS caused me to lose 10 pounds without even trying (no reduction in calories consumed). My guess is the average overweight person could lose 10-15 pounds a year just avoiding HFCS. Considering health care costs are so high because of it (which effects us all) HFCS should be illegalized.

Anonymous

12/11/2012 - 11:49pm

like what is found in dairy products ,fish with edible bones and dark green vegetalbes

Anonymous

12/10/2012 - 2:19pm

I've just been told about a long time friend who is in his fifties, diabetic, lost one leg and is going blind. I'm not a scientist or a doctor. It seems to me the path of revelation about the health effects of HFCS is following that of tobacco use. I'm not going to be surprised when it's revealed that HFCS is the trigger key to a swath of ailments. If you were a doctor finishing your career at the end of the nineteenth century you'd probably never have come across a case of lung cancer. The adoption of smoking as an acceptable (even desired) social norm and the development of methods to mass produce cigarets, we now know, are directly responsible for millions of lung cancer cases and heart failures.
Thirty five years ago, HFCS became the option adopted by the processed food industries. Why not, it was better than sugar in many ways. I think time will show there is some element in HFCS that triggers an addictive behavior. Eat and keep eating. The graph of obesity and the adoption of HFCS is probably like a set of rail road tracks going into the sky. Just like the cases of Lung Cancer and the mass production and distribution of cigarets

If the public have to pick up the tab for medical treatment, should the public have a degree of authority to limit behaviors of people that cause those very medical problems and their expenses? Governments consider restrictions all the time in the name of public health. Should there be a roaring debate about HFCS now? I think so, today, before the sun sets.

Anonymous

12/10/2012 - 4:09am

Fructose isn't the problem, it's the large amount that's consumed and the fact that corn is not a very healthy for you to start with. Corn is loaded with mycotoxins and corn syrup is in a lot of food and beverages. The more you consume the more damage it will do.

Anonymous

12/09/2012 - 4:24am

If HCFS and sugar do the same thing, then why do we so often see products that have HCFS plus sugar in their ingredients. Why not just use 100% HFCS -- or 100% sugar? I see a combination of HFCS and sugar all the time in the products I regularly buy. This makes me think that HFCS and sugar have somewhat different effects -- otherwise, why would manufacturers choose to use both?

Anonymous

11/29/2012 - 4:08pm

Like everything else on the face of the planet... Moderation.

Anonymous

11/28/2012 - 12:57pm

there is high fructose corn syrup in everything!!!! why?

Anonymous

11/27/2012 - 6:45pm

This whole feed I have to question. My good friens is a nutrituonist & says hfcs is infact not digestible by humans & stores fat like no other, not to mention the over consumption rate.

Anonymous

11/25/2012 - 2:33pm

I cannot recall ever seeing children in a restaurant drinking milk. It is normally some kind of large soda with their non vegetable meal. Why shouldn't we have a childhood obesity epidemic? I suspect that if all soda was illegal, our health would improve. And to think of schools even letting that stuff into the premises. If high fructose corn syrup is ubicquitose, just read about asparteme and all it's health implecations.

Anonymous

11/22/2012 - 5:22pm

I have just watched a vid about HFCS, the report was over an our long from a Professor of Biology, he was addressing a class of graduates. The report states quite categorically that the liver cannot process much of HFCS and it is seen as a toxin that our metabolism can't deal with. The evidence seems overwhelming and it is only the power of money that prevents it from being outlawed. What's new though ????

Anonymous

11/13/2012 - 12:28pm

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