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!


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.


12/10/2012 - 3:09am

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.


12/09/2012 - 3:24am

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?


11/29/2012 - 3:08pm

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


11/28/2012 - 11:57am

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


11/27/2012 - 5:45pm

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.


11/25/2012 - 1:33pm

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.


11/22/2012 - 4:22pm

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 ????


11/13/2012 - 11:28am

I know this is a very old article but I could not resist leaving a comment. My background and education is in plant biochemistry and genetics. Just to clear up what fructose and sucrose (sugar) is. Fructose is one of the most common forms of sugars on the planet occurring in all plants. It is on the human palette one of the sweetest tasting sugars leading easily to its use in pop drinks. This increased sweetness does not make it any more harmful than regular table sugar nor does is make it any greater in calorie content and no sugar contains any form of fat. Sugar of all kinds is the easiest to utilize form of food energy for the body and if the body consumes too much sugar it simply creates fat to store this excess energy. Sucrose(table sugar) is composed of one unit of glucose and one unit of fructose. Sucrose actually has a greater caloric content than fructose as it is larger molecule with more chemical bonds meaning it has more energy to release. HFCS became very commonly used in the US because of its availability and cost effectiveness. The cost effectiveness, meaning its cheapness, is cause by a tariff imposed by the US government on importing table sugar driving up the cost of table sugar. The other factor for the cheapness of corn syrup is the massive quatity of corn grown in the US. The US is by far and away the larges producer of corn with the "cornbelt" states alone producing more corn than the rest of the world combined.
People like to find somthing to blame for their current problems and if the US was not using and HFCS then people would be blaming table sugar for the current problems of obesety and other related ailments. The root of these problems is simply over-consumption and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle.

This is just my two cents.


11/12/2012 - 2:20am

I have to agree with one poster. Stop buying things that have chemicals. If you don't know how to stop eating from the frozen food section, or canned & bagged items, learn how to cook. Cooking rice from scratch is this hard: boil double the water for the amount of rice you will be cooking. Add rice to boiling water. Add salt or seasoning if desired. Turn temperature so rice simmers (#2 or #3 on your stove knob).
Cover. Twenty minutes later...done! You can jazz it up with a recipe, or add your own stuff to it! Vegetables, seasoning, etc. You can also use millet, or barley, as a rice substitute, or even wheat berries. Forget reheating beans from a bag. They too, offer idiot proof cooking (easy). Buy a meat thermometer and make your own. If you don't want to prepare more foods healthily, then expect to always be consuming chemicals, sugars, etc. If you eliminate sugar, as well as the MASSIVE amounts of sodium (salt) that is added, which, by the way in recent years has ALSO been linked to diabetes and major health issues. you will find VERY LITTLE on your supermarket shelves, anyway!

My young 12 year old daughter was diagnosed with high blood pressure. She was 20 pounds overweight, and we had to change her diet. I no longer go to any fast food restaurants, I prepare dishes from scratch because it allows ME to control sugar and salt, and I have found a wealth of other seasonings that replace salt. We make sure there is fresh food. Since my kids were born, I have never kept soda in the house, or even juices. We have lowfat milk and lots if ice cold water in the fridge. Parents: if your child doesn't like water, keep it in the fridge. My kids hardly ever drank water. Then I bought a Brita filter, and a 1-1/2 gallon container. I keep that in the fridge and they drink water now like it's going out of style.

So try it. Sodium and sugar are loaded into most prepared foods in the Supermarket (even bargain meats! I purchased the no name brand chicken breasts from Wal-Mart. Along with being packed with 15% solution, the solution added 400 mg sodium to the chicken breasts! To the lady having seizures and thinks it's the sugar, I may respectfully add she should watch her sodium.

WE ALL HAVE A CHOICE. It's liberating to take it. If you want to be healthy, you have got to stop making supermarket prepared foods your staple.


11/05/2012 - 9:11am

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