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High-fructose corn syrup: Why is it so bad for me?

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High-Fructose Corn Syrup:
Why Is It so Bad for Me?


High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a sweetener and preservative used in many processed foods. It is made by changing the sugar into cornstarch to fructose which is another form of sugar.

High-fructose corn syrup extends the shelf life of foods and is sweeter and cheaper than sugar. For these reasons, it has become a popular ingredient in many sodas, fruit-flavored drinks and other processed foods. Check your food labels. You may be surprised by how many foods contain high-fructose corn syrup.

Some nutrition experts blame increased consumption of high-fructose corn syrup for the growing obesity problem. One theory is that fructose is more readily converted to fat by your liver than is sucrose, increasing the levels of fat in your bloodstream.

In addition, animal studies have shown a link between increased consumption of high-fructose corn syrup and adverse health effects, such as diabetes and high cholesterol. However, the evidence is not as clear in human studies.

Despite the lack of clarity in research, the fact remains that Americans consume large quantities of high-fructose corn syrup in the form of soft drinks, fruit-flavored beverages and other processed foods. These types of foods are often high in calories and low in nutritional value. This fact alone is reason to be cautious about foods containing high-fructose corn syrup.


High-fructose corn syrup is produced by milling corn to produce corn starch then processing that corn starch to yield corn syrup that is almost entirely glucose, and they add enzymes that change the glucose into fructose. The resulting syrup (after enzyme conversion) contains approximately 90% fructose and is HFCS 90. To make other common forms of HFCS (HFCS 55 and HFCS 42) the HFCS 90 is mixed with 100% glucose corn syrup in the appropriate ratios to form the desired HFCS.


Because of a system of price supports and sugar quotas imposed since May 1982, importing sugar into the United States is prohibitively expensive. High-fructose corn syrup, derived from corn. It is more economical since the American price of sugar is higher than the global price of sugar and the price of #2 corn is artificially low due to both government subsidies since farmers produce more corn annually. The food industry turned to HFCS as a substitute, with both Coca-Cola and Pepsi switching to HFCS in 1984.


The average American consumed approximately 28.4 kg of HFCS in 2005, versus 26.7 kg of sugar. In countries where HFCS is not used or rarely used, the sugar consumption per person can be higher than the USA; for example (2002 WHO Oral Health Country):

    Australia:  32.4 kg
    40.1 kg
    59.7 kg
    56.2 kg


There are indications that "soda and sweetened drinks are the main source of calories in the American diet." Over consumption of sugars has been linked to adverse health effects, and most of these effects are similar for HFCS and sucrose. These is a striking correlation between the rise of obesity in the US and the use of HFCS for sweeting beverages and foods, but it is not clear whether this is a coincidence or a casual relationship. Some critics of HFCS do not claim that it is any worse than similar qualities of sucrose would be, but rather focus on its prominent role in the over consumption of sugar, for example encouraging overconsumption through its low cost.

Possible differences in health effects between sucrose and HFCS could arise from the fact that glucose and fructose are bound in a disaccharide or form the 10% difference in fructose content. Since many beverages are significantly acidic, sucrose will separate into glucose and fructose which is one of the mechanisms to form an invert sugar. The amount of sucrose converted will depend on the temperature the beverage is kept at and the amount of time it is kept at this temperature.

Studies on the effect of fructose, as reviewed by research studies implicate increased consumption of fructose (due primarily to the increased consumption of sugars but also partly due to the slightly higher fructose content of HFCS as compared to sucrose) in obesity and insulin resistance.

Research studies also found that adding HFCS to fizzy drinks makes them up to 10 times richer in harmful carbonyl compounds, such as methylglyoxal, than those containing cane sugar. Carbonyl compound are elevated in people with diabetes and are blamed for causing diabetic complications such as foot ulcers and eye and nerve damage.

A study in mice suggests that fructose increases obesity. Large quantities of fructose stimulate the liver to produce triglycerides, promote glycation of proteins and induce insulin resistance (Fach, D. Diabetes 54 (7):1907-1913).


Fructose is a dietary sugar that is found in a number of naturally occurring foods, most particularly, fruit. Eaten in moderation, especially when ingested as a complex foodstuff (e.g., an apple), it is not harmful. On the other hand, high fructose ingestion appears to have a number of adverse health effects, including obesity and high triglyceride levels. Several recent scientific publications have suggested that high fructose consumption may be a major contributor to the global epidemic of obesity.

You are probably thinking: "How can that be…no one could eat enough apples to get fat!" But did you know that high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is the sweetener used in most (non-diet) soda pop? It is also used to sweeten jams, jellies, candies and other ingestible goodies.

As you probably know, soft drinks are the beverage of choice for many people. We consume these drinks more often and in greater quantities than ever before. Because of that, the consumption of HFCS has increased more than 1000% since 1970. According to a study published in 2004 by George Bray and colleagues in the American Journal of nutrition, HFCS now represents more than 40% of caloric sweeteners added to foods and beverages. It is the sole caloric sweetener in soft drinks in the US. These researchers estimate that the top 20% of consumers of caloric sweeteners ingests more than 300 calories per day as HFCS. That, for many people, is about 15% of their recommended caloric intake. Since most soft drinks have no nutritional redeeming features, such as vitamins, minerals, protein, or fiber, HFCS sweetened soda pops bring a whole new level of meaning to the term "empty calories."

Fructose has a number of effects that make it a likely candidate to fuel the growth of obesity when consumed excessively. Besides being a significant source of calories, HFCS soft drinks have important metabolic effects that contribute to its impact on obesity.

Regulation of eating and body weight is complex. Sensory cues, hormonal signals, and biochemical processes interact to help ensure living things take in enough food to survive. For example, the ingestion of glucose-containing carbohydrates leads to the secretion of the hormone insulin. Insulin has many different effects on our metabolism, but one that is relevant to obesity is its effects on appetite. Insulin acts on the brain to reduce food intake. Insulin also stimulates fat cells to increase production (about four hours after a meal) of another substance, called leptin. Leptin also acts on the brain to reduce appetite.

A third hormone, ghrelin is produced by the stomach and small intestine. It stimulates hunger and additional food intake. Circulating ghrelin levels are inversely related to body weight and increase after diet-induced weight loss. Ghrelin seems to play an important role in weight regain after weight loss.

So you can see that ingestion of certain foodstuffs, such as glucose-containing carbohydrates, trigger a number of responses that help balance food seeking behaviors with whether an individual is fed or fasting. These complex processes interact to help us maintain weight over both the short and the long run. Fructose, unlike glucose, does not turn on these regulatory mechanisms, leaving individuals with high fructose ingestion vulnerable to overeating and weight gain.


To reduce high-fructose corn syrup in your diet, read food labels. Avoid or limit foods that contain high-fructose corn syrup. Some other easy tips for cutting back on high-fructose corn syrup include:

    Buy 100% fruit juice instead of fruit-flavored drinks.
    Choose fresh fruit instead of fruit juices. Even 100% fruit juice has a high-concentration of sugar.
    Choose fruit canned in its own juices instead of heavy syrup.
    Cut back or even better eliminate soda and other canned/bottled beverages.
    Read the labels of all prepackaged foods. Select only those without HFCS or at least limit the ones you select for consumption. You will need to read the labels of:

        Canned fruits/vegetables
        Ketchup and other condiments

    Practically everything that is in a can/or a package.

    If possible, prepare fresh fruits and vegetables that are not processed products.
    Drink unsweetened beverages or at least without sweeteners added.
    Substitute water for soda. HFCS sweetened beverages do not help to quench your thirst anyway.


Take a challenge test and greatly reduce or eliminate HFCS from your diet for 2 months and see how good you fell.

Just imagine over the long term the health benefits you will receive by eliminating HFCS.

You will not want to go back to ingesting HFCS again.


Stop High Fructose Corn Syrup! HFCS free foods. Retrieved November 23, 2007 from ttp://

The doctor weighs in: High fructose corn syrup. Retrieved November 3, 2007 from

High fructose corn syrup. Retrieved November 3, 2007 from

High fructose corn syrup: Why is it so bad for me? Retrieved October 24, 2007 from

High fructose corn syrup. Retrieved October 24, 2007 from