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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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 - 9:04pm

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 - 12:40pm

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.


09/09/2012 - 12:03am

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.


09/06/2012 - 12:14am

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 - 10:38pm

I just bought 3 bottles of Iced Tea and read the label. High Fructose Corn Syrup. I don't want to throw them away, so I only add about 10% of it to my water bottle and then the rest is water. Hope that works.


08/23/2012 - 8:44am

We read every label now. HFCS is a vile toxin that exists so that there is something to do with all that corn the government is subsidizing. Isn't it a HUGE coincidence that the obesity epidemic started in the 80's after sugar taxes in the 70's prompted manufacturers to start using HFCS to save money/enhance profit margin? Why is Coca-Cola available with cane sugar for people who keep Kosher? It's NOT KOSHER! Try the Kosher Coke and you will see the difference in TASTE. I used to love Coke--it takes like crap now.
We only buy Arnold bread because it is the only bread in our area without HFCS. Slowly, manufacturers are starting to understand that they need to change to keep our business.
I don't buy dog food or dog treats/toys made in China. But that another soap box...


08/07/2012 - 8:10pm

Wow. Thank you for that thorough explanation about corn feed, hfcs and how it is processed in the liver. I wonder if the GMo corn that gets cattle to slaughter weight in 6 months instead of 2 years is causing weight gain in the people who consume it too. I want to apologize for the ignorant folks here too, some of us know cows were meant to eat grass not corn. And you don't Ned a nutrition degree to be knowledgeable. Information is free. Thanks for posting a concise answer.


07/25/2012 - 7:36am

It all comes down to MONEY folks. Case in point Heinz Ketchup, the gold standard. They used to just have plain sugar in their recipe. Then they replaced it with HFCS. When folks complained, they did not go back to the old recipe, they came out with a new version Simply Heinz, with sugar instead of HFCS.

Now to have two nearly identical products can't be cheap, there must be a LOT of money in HFCS to encourage producers to keep using it.

Like they say READ THE LABELS and act accordingly. Good Health to you all.


07/23/2012 - 10:51am

Cattle are fed genetically modified CORN to fatten them up. Cattle are also fed corn because the government subsidizes farmers who grow corn which makes it CHEAP. Cattle get fatter when they are corn fed. The fat is interlocked in the meat. It cannot be separated and so they sell for more money because they sell by the weight.

Corn-feeding has another advantage: It keeps the assembly line moving steadily throughout the year. Grass becomes sparse during periods of drought and cold weather, which slows the growth of the calves. Corn is available year-round, allowing calves to gain as much weight in January as they do in June. The goal is to make them fat and corn is what does that.

As for HFCS...
HFCS makes you fat, but not in the same way that corn makes a cow fat. In humans, it does this in at least two or three separate ways.

HFCS is a fructose-glucose compound which contains an out of balance ratio of the 2 sugars. Depending on what you are consuming, you will have either HFCS 42 or HFCS 55. There is either a 5 or 6 molecule difference between the 2 sugars. This doesn't seem significant, but this is where part of the problem occurs. When you add up the amount of molecules per gram and the number of grams consumed in a typical day it becomes astronomical. There is HFCS in bread, ketchup, salad dressings, and almost every processed food that is made in a factory environment.

When fructose enters the stomach, it is not digested. Fructose travels through the digestive tract to the intestines where it is transported to the liver to be processed. The liver processes the fructose into glycerol which is the backbone of a trigliceride. Triglicerides are fat which travel in the blood and are stored as energy reserves that build up around the waist line and hips. Obese people all have one thing in common. They all have a high level of triglicerides in their blood. These triglicerides accumulate on the liver. This leads to a fatty liver which causes other foods to metabolize at a slower rate. When your metabolism slows down, you become lethargic and your body does not burn energy efficiently. It becomes difficult to rid yourself of the fat build up even with exercise. Due to a lower metabolic rate, you will become tired very fast. The mass of an overweight body takes more effort to overcome inertia and it is a never ending cycle that leads to more weight gain.

Most processed foods also have MSG or monosodium glutamate. MSG confuses the leptin receptors in the brain. This causes you to think that you need more food which leads to more eating, more HFCS, and more weight gain.

Fructose is a naturally occurring compound that can be found in fruit like apples and oranges. The concentration of fructose in fruit is less than one tenth of the total weight of the fruit. If you eat 1 or 2 pieces of fruit in one day the amount of fructose consumed will still be insignificant.
Fruit also contains pectin, however, which causes short chain fatty acids to be liberated in the intestines. This produces leptin which prevents your body from absorbing too much fat and suppresses your appetite. The triglicerides that are made from the fructose in an apple are eliminated and cholesterol absorption is also reduced. Fruit is not an unhealthy source of fructose. Too much fruit is like anything else in excess. Moderation is the key. It is true what they say about an apple a day.

Concentrated fructose is not something that is found in nature and the human body is not adapted to accommodate this substance. There is a new product that is now coming onto the scene called agave nectar. This is not a natural substance either. It is actually a higher dosage of high fructose corn syrup. Instead of calling it agave nectar, they should name it higher high fructose corn syrup. It looks the same, but it has a difference of 40 molecules which makes it 6.67 to 8 times more toxic than HFCS!


07/05/2012 - 7:17am

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