What Is High Fructose Corn Syrup?

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
October 19, 2018

What is high fructose corn syrup, anyway? Should I really worry about high fructose corn syrup versus sugar? The short answer is you should limit both.

What is high fructose corn syrup?

It’s a sweetener made from corn. Along with table sugar, it’s a big suspect in today’s surge of obesity and diabetes because it’s added to most processed foods

Starchy carbs — the “white” foods, like white flour, potatoes, and rice — turn into glucose in your body. Glucose is fuel for any cell and moves quickly. Table sugar and high fructose corn syrup are a bit different. They’re about half glucose and fructose.

In a world of commercially-sweetened products, we get much more of all sugars than we need. The 2015 – 2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend that we keep added sugars from any source, including high fructose corn syrup, to no more than 10 percent of daily calories. So, if you’re consuming 2,000 calories a day, just one 16-ounce Coca-Cola puts you right at the limit at 52 grams.


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Note that 2,000 calories a day is a good target for athletes and people who do physical labor, way more than you need if you’re overweight and spend your day at a desk.

So what’s fructose? As the name suggests, it occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables. Whole fruits are good for you because they contain fiber and other nutrients. Standard servings like a banana or a cup of strawberries have a tiny amount of fructose compared to what you’ll get in a soda.

Is high fructose corn syrup bad for you?

Yes, because you’re getting too much of it. Unlike glucose, fructose is metabolized mainly in your liver. Your liver can turn small amounts of fructose into glycogen, but it can only store so much. When you get big doses, the fructose becomes fat.

And not just any kind of fat — fructose is more likely than other kinds of calories to become visceral fat, the fat surrounding your organs that is linked to heart disease as well as diabetes.

Both high fructose corn syrup and sugar also boost inflammation, an immune response to danger. When you live with extra inflammation you’re at more risk of all the big diseases of modern life — cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.

In addition, too much fructose has been linked to advanced glycation end products, which in turn are tied to aging.

We’re just learning the complete story of how fructose overload is affecting our health. For example, it may reduce fertility. Some findings suggest that it’s a risk factor for failure when women undergo in vitro fertilization, and other research links it to poorer quality sperm and a higher risk of low testosterone.

High fructose corn syrup vs. sugar

Food manufacturers created high fructose corn syrup to save money. In processed foods, it typically contains 42 percent fructose, compared to 50 percent in table sugar. The high fructose corn syrup in soft drinks is 55 percent fructose.

Unlike fruit, both sugar and high fructose corn syrup are “empty” calories, without nutrients. And since you’re eating empty calories, if you don’t up your consumption of other foods, you’ll end up with a less nutritious diet. How many people are hungry for a big salad right after they drink a bottle of soda and eat cookies? Most want more soda and cookies.

The main point: Skip products with added sugars, which go by many names, including sucrose, honey, turbinado sugar, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, and concentrated fruit juice. Satisfy a desire for sweetness with whole fruit instead, or stick to a cup a day of fruit juice. And stay away from the 16-ounce soda.

Actually, stay away from soda, period.


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April 09, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN