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    The Truth About High Fructose Corn Syrup

    June 1, 2011 •  20 comments.

     •  Blog, News

    High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) was first developed in the mid-1960s and, because of its unique physical and functional properties, was widely embraced by food formulators. As scientific research continues to mount over its role in obesity, so does the controversy over this man-made liquid sweetener and preservative, and the corn industry is ramping up an ad campaign to counter the negative publicity.

    But consumers and the sugar industry aren’t buying it. With sales of products containing HFCS at all-time lows, and the sugar industry now suing corn refiners for false and misleading claims, food manufacturers like Kraft are beginning to formulate their products without the use of HFCS in response to consumer demand. With the increasing number of Americans who now have a corn allergy that comes as welcome news.

    Today’s article is a guest post from Dr. Jonny Bowden, also known as The Rogue Nutritionist, a nationally known expert on weight loss and nutrition whose articles have appeared in Forbes, the New York Times, Time Magazine and the Wall Street Journal.

    I am in awe of the recent TV commercials where two mothers are talking and one questions the other about serving some sweetened fruit punch to her kids. The first mother says, “That stuff’s got high fructose corn syrup in it, and you know what they say about that.

    To which the second mother replies, “What? That it’s natural and made from corn? And that in moderation, it’s perfectly fine?”

    Clever commercial. And utterly misleading.

    Understanding Sugar…

    In the beginning, there was plain old table sugar, also known by its scientific name,sucrose. Sucrose is a disaccharide (“di” meaning “two,” “saccharide” meaning “sugar”). That means it’s actually a blend of two “simple” (mono) saccharides, in this case glucose and fructose.

    Take a molecule of glucose and a molecule of fructose, link them with a chemical bond and presto, you’ve got yourself a molecule of sucrose. Put a bunch of those sucrose molecules together in a bowl, place the bowl on the table at the local diner with a little spoon in it, and you’re in business.

    Now it’s pretty much a given that high intake of sugar is bad for you, and a list of all reasons why would pretty much fill a book, so let’s save that for another day. But what’s interesting is that a fair amount of research has been done investigating exactly which of the two components of sugar is worse for you—glucose or fructose. And the hands-down winner in the “this stuff is bad” category is…fructose.

    Figuring Out Fructose…

    Fructose is a naturally occurring fruit sugar found, for example, in an apple. In this form, fructose is absolutely fine.

    But the difference between fructose in an apple and fructose in a soda is the difference between a beautiful fur coat on a wild fox and that same fur on the back of a lady at the opera. It’s gorgeous on its original owner (the fox). But on the lady? Not so much.

    When fructose is found in its original setting (like an apple or a berry), it’s surrounded with healthful nutrients like phytochemicals and fiber. When it’s extracted and made into a liquid sweetener, it’s a complete nightmare.

    Studies have shown that fructose produces insulin resistance in animals. Insulin resistance is a central feature of metabolic syndrome and type ll diabetes.

    More than any other kind of sugar, fructose raises triglycerides—a serious risk factor for heart disease. In 2000, Canadian researchers at the University of Toronto fed a high-fructose diet to rodents that have a fat metabolism similar to our own—Syrian golden hamsters. In a matter of weeks, the hamsters developed both elevated triglycerides and insulin resistance.

    Fructose has also been linked to non-alcoholic, fatty-liver disease. Rats that were given high fructose diets developed a number of undesirable metabolic abnormalities including elevated triglycerides, weight gain, and extra abdominal fat. So it’s no wonder it contributes mightily to creating new fat on your body.

    Interestingly, fructose does not raise blood sugar very much, leading to the wrongheaded idea (popular for a while) that it’s a “good” sugar for diabetics. It’s not. It’s bad news.

    From Bad to Worse…

    Now in the “olden” days, sugar—table sugar that is, plain old sucrose—was expensive. Not maybe for the average Joe picking up a bag at the grocery store, but for food manufacturers wanting to sweeten products, it was definitely a high-ticket ingredient.

    Between sugar tariffs that drove the price of sugar higher and corn subsidies the forced the price of corn lower, a perfect environment was setup to allow food manufacturers to find a solution to the problem of expensive sugar. Enter high fructose corn syrup.

    Take a subsidized crop (like corn), perform a bunch of chemical operations on it, and voila, you had something that was even sweeter than sucrose at a fraction of the cost. Better yet, it could be added to virtually everything on the table, making those items even more “delicious” and desirable and, of course, moving more product.

    Now here’s where it gets tricky. Chemically speaking, high fructose corn syrup reallyisn’t that different from table sugar (sucrose). High fructose corn syrup—at least the most common kind found in soft drinks—is 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose. It’s not a huge difference from the 50/50 mix in plain old sugar.

    But the problem is that it’s everywhere.

    “The low cost of high fructose corn syrup allowed the explosion of 20-ounce sodas, super big gulps and the like to happen,” says C. Leigh Broadhurst, PhD, a research scientist and nutritionist at the USDA. “Because sucrose was quite expensive, for years, sodas were limited to the 12-ounce can. We have also had an explosion of candies, bakery items, and ice cream novelties, which would have been just too costly if they were all made with sugar. But now, because of high fructose corn syrup, these items are much cheaper to produce.”

    So, no matter how you cut the HFCS-sweetened cake, we’re now consuming more fructose than ever. And refined fructose-—whether we get it from table sugar or from the ubiquitous HFCS—is bad news for your health.

    When the Corn Refiners Assocation fights back with their “pro-HFCS” ads, it seems to come down to two arguments: One, it’s no worse than sugar (OK maybe, but that’s like saying Salems are no worse than Marlboros), and two, it’s natural because cause it’s made from corn.

    Maybe so, but so is ethanol, and I’m not drinking that either.

    To learn more about the author of this article, Dr. Jonny Bowden, whose work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, CNN, MSNBC and on Fox News, please visit http://www.jonnybowden.com

      20 Responses to “The Truth About High Fructose Corn Syrup”

      1. Becky

        Do you have any tips for alternatives to sugar? I like to use the sugar free products – are they safe?

        • Marti

          Stevia (Truvia) is a *natural* sugar replacement made from the leaves of the stevia plant and it’s Perfectly safe.

        • AllergyKids

          In Europe, the food safety agency has called for a review of aspartame (also known as Equal and Sweet and Low) due to cancer concerns and concerns for pregnant women. Aspartame has been removed from products sold to children in other countries by Kraft, Coca Cola and other multinationals. More information is also available here:


        • Maggie

          Sweet Tree coconut sugar is the most affordable of all coconut sugars and this sweetner is packed full of healthy nutrients. Awesome taste as well. You can find it on Amazon and the web. Sweettree.com

        • Dawn


          I would recommend you skip the newly manufactured stevia products made by large corporations (Truvia, Purevia). These contain additives. Stick to the REAL natural stevia products. You may have to go to a health food store to find them, but they are worth the trip. My favorite is NuNaturals Alcohol Free Stevia. It comes in a liquid form. Just add a few drops to your coffee, tea, cereal, etc. Great flavor and no bitterness.

          You can also purchase flavored stevia drops (I use the SweetLeaf brand). Add some root beer flavored stevia to sparkling water for a healthy soda alternative!

      2. Last autumn Eating Well magazine published a piece explaining how HFCS really isn’t all that different from sugar. They completely ignored the economic influence which plays a huge role in why HFCS is so ubiquitous in the American processed food diet. Your article is great–and I agree. I can think of plenty of things that are natural…that doesn’t mean it’s fit for consumption! As to the deceptively innocent claim of “it’s made from corn” — seems EVERYTHING has a corn product. Enough already.

      3. Ann

        What the commercials do not tell you is the chemicals used in processing the corn into High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Starch, Corn Syrup. There is a huge increase in the number of people with corn allergy. Mine is not an allergy to the corn, but an allergy to the chemicals used in the processing, Sulfites. Corn is soaked in sulfites to make the elements easier to extract.

        • Maggie

          Good point Ann but lets not forget that something like 80% of all corn produced in the us is GM (genetically modified) which means that the plant itself produces a pesticide as well as the plant being able to withstand heavy doses of the herbicide Roundup…Many more chemicals to create an “alergic” reaction in us humans.

        • Kristina Marshall

          I figured out in December 2014 that I have this terrible allergy. I have been wheat and grain free since August 2014. During this intense elimination way of eating, I noticed after eating some honey mustard dressing I started itching all over and breaking out in hives on my chest and face. This is a horrible thing for people to go through. There are more people having this type allergic reaction. They need to put warnings on All foods containing High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, and Corn Syrup Solids, and any other type concentrated corn sweetener.

      4. Thanks for this brilliant and much needed article. Audrae Erickson and the corn refiners are spending millions of dollars to try to keep people eating high fructose corn syrup. She has said on thousands of blogs that “sugar is sugar” but fails to say how much they mean by “in moderation.” She ignores the fact that all sugars are different chemical formulas–and that there are many different kinds of sugar.
        How much of that artificial red drink (from the commercials) does she personally consume and feed to her children daily? She expects other mothers to give it to their children.
        I loved your comparison of a “fox in a fur coat” and a “lady wearing a fur coat.” Great! Thanks again for this article.

      5. Stacy

        Agave nectar is really deliscious and safe as well. Does not raise your blood sugar like sugar, honey, and others.

      6. sheelah

        Is the processing of stevia similar to agave and hfcs and does it too break down in to fructose? What is the best sugar to feed our kids? (Other than the obvious raw fruits. :))

      7. abouttime

        Its not just the corn-syrup – its a problem with all corn products. After all, there are kids who scarf down a big bag of chips as a snack.

        In 1971 the US started to subsidize corn. At some point after that someone in the food industry figured out that switching to corn would boost the sale of their product so other manufacturers followed suit. Reason for the boost – something in corn keeps your brain hungry – so you eat/drink more than you should.

        See DR Doris Rapp’s book on allergies from the 1980’s pointing out how you can test for it yourself – as skin test would not work because you are quote desensitized. (in essence you switch to a product without corn – if you don’t go into a shark feeding frenzy – you are allergic to corn-or corn sensitive.)

        For soda, try a brand made with cane sugar (usually small brands but you can buy them)

        Ice-cream some premium brands are still made with cane sugar.

        After realizing corn was the problem I switched to products made with cane sugar and canola oil.

        A couple of months after I got off the corn wagon, had many health/emotional problems clear up.

      8. Jennifer Frazelle

        I have an allergy to corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup as well as Aloe Vera, and red dye #40. I just added stevia (Truvia) to the ever growing list of allergens. I get Anaphylactic shock when i consume any of the above in liquid form along with stoke like symptoms. (Loss of movement usually on my left side) follows. Solid forms i get the normal allergic reactions. Hives, my skin itches…and all the rest of the symptoms. Its real difficult to deal with due to the fact of not being able to go out to eat or things like that. What does anyone suggest as far as alternatives to the allergens go?

      9. Are their any types of candy with No High Frutose Corn Syrup?

        • Nora

          I am allergic to corn syrup/HFCS and I have found that organic candies are usually safe. You still have to read ingredients.

          Watch out for “Fructose” which is just High Fructose Corn Syrup that is 90% fructose.

      10. Are there any types of candy with No High Fructose Corn Syrup?
        Or chocolate?

      11. LBrown

        If you have food allergies, plain sugar, not “organic”, raw, or “natural” sugar is the best. Use it in moderation, but plain table is the most chemically pure substance available in ordinary commerce. My wife can eat regular sugar just fine but gets very sick (call 911) if she eats raw sugar or brown sugar.

      12. Kristina Marshall

        There needs to be more regulation of the use of the Corn Syrup. I have had this terrible allergy for about 10 years. Just found out what it was in December.

      13. Rebecca

        I have an allergy to high fructose corn syrup . I finally discovered it after stop drinking soda , I decided to drink 4 oz of it , and with in 10 mins I my throat started closing off got a migraine and just felt like I had the flu . I have been a migraine suffer for many years feeling like it was just inherited. I ate some cookies one day and had the same feeling I started comparing ingredients on packages and the word high fructose corn syrup was in all of the things that was giving me all those symptoms . After all these years of suffering from migraines I no longer suffer from them do to this ingredient I have spent so much money trying to figure this out now I have . Please remove this poison from our wonder food .

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