What Is Wrong With High Fructose Corn Syrup?

High fructose corn syrup is one of the main ingredients in almost any processed food. You’ve probably heard nutritionists and environmentalists say it needs to be avoided. There’s a popular commercial running on television involving two mothers at a birthday party laughing about all the hype and insisting that in moderation, high fructose corn syrup is a “natural,” wonderful thing. It should be noted that this ad is sponsored by the Corn Refiners Association.

So what’s a person to do? Believe HFCS is evil and try (possibly in vain) to avoid it, or roll with it and accept the fact that it’s in nearly every factory made product we consume?

I’ve done some digging and hopefully what I’ve found will help you make more informed choices for you and your family.

The Primary Question

Is high fructose corn syrup worse for us than sugar?

The Answer

We’re not sure. Some studies have been conducted, but many have been deemed flawed or not comprehensive enough. For sure, more research needs to be done.

Other Questions

What is high fructose corn syrup?

According the the Mayo Clinic online,

High-fructose corn syrup is a common sweetener and preservative. High-fructose corn syrup is made by changing the sugar (glucose) in cornstarch to fructose — another form of sugar. The end product is a combination of fructose and glucose. Because it extends the shelf life of processed foods and is cheaper than sugar, high-fructose corn syrup has become a popular ingredient in many sodas, fruit-flavored drinks and other processed foods.

The reason that high fructose corn syrup is cheaper than sugar is because of huge government subsidies that go to growers of corn.

So What’s the Big Deal?

The bottom line is that high fructose corn syrup is simply another form of sugar.  Marion Nestle, author, food policy expert and professor (she holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology and an M.P.H. in public health nutrition) writes, “Biochemically, [HFCS] is about the same as table sugar (both have about the same amount of fructose and calories) . . .”

But here’s the problem, Nestle adds, “[high fructose corn syrup] is in everything and Americans eat a lot of it—nearly 60 pounds per capita in 2006, just a bit less than pounds of table sugar.   HFCS is not a poison, but eating less of any kind of sugar is a good idea these days and anything that promotes eating more is not.”

So what are we to do?

1. Read labels. This is one of the most important things you can do. HFCS is in nearly all processed foods. If it’s the first, second or third ingredient, then there’s a lot of sugar in that product. It’s probably best to skip it.

2. Eat more real food. Go for foods that don’t come with an ingredients list.

3. Avoid sodas. These drinks are notoriously high in HFCS.

4. Be aware that it’s very difficult to consume sugar “in moderation” if you don’t know how much you’re eating. Start paying attention to what’s in the food you eat so you can make more informed choices about your sugar consumption.

Let me know if you have more questions about high fructose corn syrup and I’ll do my best to find the answers. If you found this post helpful, please tell a friend and consider tweeting it and/or liking it on Facebook.


  1. Good information!
    Gary Taubes’ book Good Calories, Bad Calories really clarified for me the differences and similiarities between table sugar and HFCS. Neither is particuarly good for us (especially in the quantities most Americans unknowingly consume), but they have slightly different effects.
    Reading labels is quite eye-opening, and excellent advice for anyone who wants to reduce their sugar consumption.