The Mystery Behind High Fructose Corn Syrup

7 Jan

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)….tasty or terrible?


What is corn syrup?

Corn syrup is made from the starch of corn.  It is used in food to  soften texture, add volume, prevent the crystallization of sugar and enhance flavoring (source)

What is HFCS?

HFCS is made by processing corn syrup to  produce a syrup that is both sweeter than regular corn syrup and has higher levels of fructose (source).  HFCS is also referred to as glucose-fructose syrup in the UK, glucose/fructose in Canada, and high-fructose maize syrup (source).

What foods are HFCS used in?

HFCS is mainly in processed foods and beverage such as breads, cereals, breakfast bars, lunch meats, yogurts, soups and condiments.  Check the labels of your foods at home and I bet you’ll be surprised at how pervasive HFCS is.


Why do some sources say to avoid it?

The correlation between HFCS and obesity was proposed due to the the fact that an increase in obesity began about 40 years ago which coincided with the invention of HFCS  (source).  However, this does not take into account other cultural changes that have also occurred since the 1970s.

What’s the big deal about fructose?

Fructose is a naturally occurring sugar that is well tolerated.  However, fructose does not lead to a rise in insulin production.  Thus, consumption of HFCS also does not lead to a rise in insulin production.


Insulin release suppress our appetite.  If these is no insulin release after eating a high-fructose food, there is no suppression of appetite.

If one’s appetite is not suppressed, it makes sense that this person may continue to eat or overeat.


Is there any truth behind its bad reputation?

But what if one can control their desire to overeat.  Are there still additional health risks associated with HFCS?  Let’s find out!

The data concerning HFCS and its potential health risks  is certainly conflicting.  Below are some highlighted studies.  Let’s first focus on the studies indicating that HFCS may be the same as regular sugar:

  • In 2009, The American Medical Association concluded that it appears unlikely that HFCS contributes more to obesity or other conditions than sucrose.  They did, however, cite a lack of chronic studies on this topic (source)
  • A study in 2007 looked at colas which all had the same number of calories but were sweetened with either HFCS, sucrose or aspartame (artificial sweetener).  They found that all of these drinks  produced similar satiety (fullness) responses and there was no difference on  subsequent caloric intake (source).  This study found similar results.
  • In 2008, a study was done that compared meals with sucrose or HFCS and their effects on 24 hour plasma glucose, insulin, leptin and ghrelin levels as well as subsequent caloric intake.  They found no difference (source) (source)
  • A long term study in obese individuals showed that 10-week supplementation with glucose or fructose resulted in no change in body weight (source)

And the studies indicating that HFCS may be worse than sugar:

  • Mice fed increased fructose developed metabolic syndrome (source)
  • In 2008, a study was done where healthy volunteers were fed a high fructose diet for 2 weeks.  These individuals developed a 25% reduction in insulin sensitivity (a hallmark of Type II Diabetes).  They showed that even though limited sugar may not lead to insulin resistance or diabetes, however higher amounts of sugar consumption may cause both(source)
  • After fructose meals, both insulin and leptin (the signal that tells us to stop eating) were lower (source)
  • Dietary fructose has shown to increase the liver production of lipids, decreases insulin sensitivity and increases visceral adiposity (the dangerous fat around organs) in overweight/obese adults (source)
  • Evidence suggests that healthy offspring of patients with type 2 diabetes may be more prone to developing increased lipid levels when challenged with high fructose (source)

So now what?

It appears as though with most nutritional topics, more research needs to be conducted.  However, the majority of food products (like pop) which contain HFCS are unhealthy whether or not HFCS has additional detrimental health benefits.  Try to avoid foods and drinks with added sugars and you’ll be sure to avoid all the potentially harmful effects of sugar and HFCS.


What do you think about HFCS?  Do you think it’s as bad as some make it out to be?  Do you try to avoid HFCS?


19 Responses to “The Mystery Behind High Fructose Corn Syrup”

  1. Laura January 7, 2012 at 4:52 pm #

    Great article on HFCS! This is an issue near and dear to my heart as an employee of a large US food manufacturer. I agree with your conclusion that more research still needs to be done, and many foods that contain high levels of HFCS are generally considered unhealthy for other reasons.

    One point of clarification — in the research against HFCS, it seems that most of the research was done based on FRUCTOSE and not necessarily HFCS. However, fructose and HFCS are not the same substances. HFCS contains both fructose and glucose, as does table sugar (sucrose). In fact, there are 2 commercially available formulas of HFCS and one of those (HFCS 42) contains more glucose than fructose. So in your opinion, how much should we rely on the fructose research when evalulating the safety of HFCS in our diets?

    Also would be very curious to hear your thoughts on using artificial sweeteners and which are the safest! Better to use them or to ingest the calories of real sugar?

    • naturallyhealthyandgorgeous January 7, 2012 at 5:06 pm #

      Great comment and good point about the HFCS and sucrose and about the two types of HFCS. You are exactly right that HFCS is chemically very similar to sucrose. The only difference is that in sucrose, the glucose and fructose are chemically bonded whereas in corn syrup, they are blended together (versus having an actual bond). So, if we eat sucrose, our body has to first digest that bond between the glucose and the fructose. If we eat HFCS, we don’t need to perform any digestion before the sugars hit our blood stream. Despite this difference of bond or no bond, a large body of research indicates that this really doesn’t make a difference on our body.

      Some of the research (the one I cited about the sodas that had different types of sugar added) actually looked at both types of HFCS and found no difference in the responses to eiteh HFCS. One paper which I didn’t include in the blog ( did actually find a correlation between HFCS (versus just fructose) and excess weight gain in rats. I think (as with most topics I post about) there isn’t enough research. However, when faced with a choice between two identical seeming products, I would choose the one without the HFCS just to be on the safe side.

    • naturallyhealthyandgorgeous January 7, 2012 at 5:55 pm #

      Also, as with any product we put in or on our bodies, quantity may be a factor. For example, having several servings of soft drinks per day with HFCS may have a different physical manifestation then occasionally having a condiment or a baked good containing HFCS.

      Just the fact that people are now cognizant about these subjects is a huge step in the right direction.

      I plan on doing a future post on the subject of artificial sweeteners.

  2. Lolita @ High On Health January 7, 2012 at 11:06 pm #

    Great article. HFCS is definitely something I don’t include in my diet… I prefer to keep to wholefoods and natural sweetener alternatives rather than heavily processed forms of sugar.

  3. Nadiya January 8, 2012 at 4:35 am #

    Interesting article! I never really knew much about high fructose corn syrup before so thank you for the article. It is so hard to avoid all of that junk in food nowadays and the stuff that doesn’t have it is expensive 😦

  4. cegoff January 8, 2012 at 1:55 pm #

    Great post and interesting topic. I generally avoid it, but like you point out in the research, there really is no good evidence that small amounts here and there are going to be harmful. My thinking is, it shouldn’t even be an issue if you diet is mainly composed of real foods and limited in highly processed junk foods (soda, candies) where
    it is often found. Then, if you happen to have a condiment with HFCS added it’s not really a big deal if the rest of your meal is healthy.

  5. Lisa ♥ Healthful Sense January 9, 2012 at 8:10 pm #

    Such a great article and I love how you present both sides of the research.
    I’m with you on this one… I choose to keep HFCS out of my diet because it’s a processed form of sugar and the products that contain HFCS generally contain many other processed ingredients.
    My instincts tell me to stick with the real thing when it comes to sweets. It could end up being a butter vs. margarine ending where for years people thought margarine was so much better than butter but the story ends bad for the processed food. Who knows though!

    • naturallyhealthyandgorgeous January 9, 2012 at 8:15 pm #

      Thanks for the comment. I try to present both sides of any story so that each reader can make their own, informed decisions!

  6. Katie January 11, 2012 at 5:50 am #

    Have you read Suicide By Sugar? The whole book is about this topic and it’s scary/fascinating! I majored in Health Education and am in school for Traditional Chinese Medicine because I really want to help people live their most natural/healthy life. I just found your blog and am so excited to find someone as interested in this stuff as I am! Yay!

    • naturallyhealthyandgorgeous January 11, 2012 at 2:14 pm #

      I haven’t read that book. I wonder if my library has it? Where are you in school right now? I would love to learn more about Traditional Chinese Medicine.

      • Katie January 13, 2012 at 2:31 am #

        First year in school. I can’t wait to collaborate with western doctors so that patients will have the option presented to them to try less invasive drugs/procedures that can have so many side effects. I love biology and the human body, have a great deal of respect for the western medical world, but I like Chinese med. for the fact that antibiotics aren’t prescribed as a cure-all. If you’re interested in Chinese med. you should talk with a/some practitioner(s) in your area, I’m sure they would be thrilled to work with you!

  7. simplehealthyhomemade January 15, 2012 at 9:06 pm #

    I love how un biased you present both sides!
    I try to stay away from it as much as possible. I personally have returned items to the store if I found them to contain HFCS, I thin k the more people do that, the more likely it becomes that the food manufacturer choose another option. Imho it’s only so prevalent because it’s cheap, and it’s only cheap because it’s subsidized.
    Another interesting fact to consider is who actually funded the studies that ‘proofed’ it’s not bad for us, or it is bad for us? I found following the research studies to their end (or start) point, that most of the time if you want to find something and you look hard enough, you seem to be able to come up with a trial that proofs your point 😦
    Food for thought, food for thought
    Thanks for putting this together!

  8. sally January 18, 2012 at 1:36 pm #

    Dear Rebecca,

    Did you see the recent study on HFS in soda? Supposed to be 50:50 fructose:glucose, but can be much more fructose than glucose

    How much worse is soda with HFS than soda with sugar?


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