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 want the real facts. We all know HFCS isn't good for you


09/30/2012 - 2:07pm

This is my own personal opinion and It all comes down to the speculators to inflate the price of corn. A commodity to pump into the food chain and to make a lot of people rich along the way. HFCS is what you get and depend on. Eventually the truth is brought to light and the truth is people are dying of obesity and diabeties caused by this toxin.


09/30/2012 - 12:56am

Watch "the world according to Monsanto". It's not only that the HFCS is un-natural and therefore should not be consumed but the GMO corn it is made from kills livestock and test animals and is banned on many countries... Greed is the reason.


09/27/2012 - 2:23pm

HFCS was invented to sweeten products at a lower cost. It is unknown what all the effects it causes in human body. The evidences so far gathered have been paid for by the vested interests and business and politics. We can only see the evidence of bad health among people. In any case, in the absense of any positive evidence it should be treated like a toxic waste. It is not food but a slow poison.

The excuse of science for HFCS is not valid. There is little understanding among scientists about how the body actually uses food nutrients and how the body is genetically wired to respond to them.


09/23/2012 - 7:32am

we gain weight because we dont burn calories. That means dont be lazy and keep working or exercise.


09/19/2012 - 2:06pm

do you also not use microwaves or cell phones or stay in the sun for fear of getting cancer? Nowadays it seems like everything causes cancer, i dont see that as a legitimate excuse to not eat high fructose corn syrup, in moderation its fine.


09/11/2012 - 8:04pm

I'll just say one problem that many of the commenters haven't said yet.
Corn syrup/High Fructose Corn syrup doesn't just cause someone to gain weight and/or be unhealthy. It can cause cancer. It may be very useful for food and all that, but corn syrup/high fructose corn syrup is very unhealthy. That's why my family and I try to eat healthier food. Because we don't want cancer.


09/09/2012 - 11:40am

I have a friend who can no longer eat any fructose because of HFCS. Her doctor told her that because she ate so much of it, her body now cannot have any form of fructose. She can no longer eat fruits. Our bodies were not designed to break down all the artificial foods/sugars. How sad that she has to live on such a restricted diet now because she was unaware. Just like soy, HFCS is not good for anyone. Don't count on the FDA/government to inform you. If it is made /processed, stay away. Look at what Europeans are doing and follow their lead. It seems that their government protects them and bans foods that are harmful.


09/08/2012 - 11:03pm

Sugar is any molecule that ends in ose. That means:
Fructose (fruit sugar) is a fruit derived sugar.
Glucose (sugar used by animals) is usually another sugar processed by body into glucose.
Sucrose (table sugar) which is Fructose and Glucose bonded together. A plant sugar.
HFCS which is Fructose and Glucose NOT bonded together. Varying percentages.
Corn Syrup which is nearly pure Dextrose otherwise named Glucose.

Glucose is the kind of sugar used in the human body and is a natural sugar. The body craves it. If you make foods out of it, you will have people craving it. Sucrose is sweet but not so much as to make people crave it like Glucose. So, the industry found a way to make Corn Syrup more like Table Sugar - the result is HFCS. Sucrose is 50/50 Fructose/Glucose; HFCS has varying percentages many near half and half. The idea is to have a Sucrose analogue. The only real difference is the glucose and fructose in HFCS is not bonded together.

Because the Fructose and Glucose in HFCS are not bonded, there is probably some craving of the Glucose going on and an actual weight gain potential because of it. Actually, HFCS has a greater bio availability of energy than Sucrose due to the fact that the Fructose and Glucose are NOT bonded together and the body doesn't have to work so hard splitting them apart. Good for energy; bad for weight gain.

The basic problem is: We like HFCS too much. That is why we gain weight.


09/05/2012 - 11:14pm

Sugarcane/sugrabeet sucrose (common sugar) exists in the food diet of humans for 1500 years, which time is more than enough for the humans to adapt in processing it in the GI system (if there were any people with intolerance to sugar ... they have extinct 1500 years ago).

HFCS is on the market from the 1970s (for about 35 years) ... which is just the beginning.
It's not a secret that HFCS contains mercury, maltose residues, and sub-measurable toxins from bio-incompatability during the production process. One or more, or a combination of these factors causes the metabolism in the human GI system to switch-over in processing the fructose from fructokinase-A to fructokinase-C.

Fructokinase-C induces rapid metabolism and marked ATP depletion ... and virtually converts the fructose we consume into 'hepatotoxin' (like in abuse with alcohol).

The research with shows that the processing of fructose with Fructokinase-C is nowadays the major cause of obesity, insulin resistance, and fatty liver disease.

Conclusion: the 'Main Suspect on the Scene of the Crime' is HFCS.


08/26/2012 - 9:38pm

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