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HFCS is just sugar

  • High fructose corn syrup is just sugar
  • No significant differences between HFCS and other sweeteners
  • Not responsible for obesity

It’s just sugar.

Unfortunately, sugar made from corn, especially high fructose corn syrup, suffers from an image problem. And, even more unfortunate, hordes of folks apparently seeking ways to discredit the American agricultural industry seize on misconceptions and misinformation about the make-up, digestibility and overall health effects of corn syrup to push their cause, whatever it is.

The crusade often blames high fructose corn syrup for the epidemic of obesity in this country, discounting the role of common sense, personal responsibility and exercise. The latest such campaign I’ve noticed is a Facebook page—BAN HFCS.

The page includes such claims as:

  • High-fructose corn syrup, particularly in soft drinks, is at least partly responsible for America's obesity epidemic.
  • It "appears to behave more like fat with respect to the hormones involved in body weight regulation." Peter Havel, associate professor of nutrition at the University of California, Davis
  • Consuming a lot of fructose, like consuming too much fat, could contribute to weight gain.
  • It doesn't register in the body metabolically the same way that glucose does.
  • High-fructose corn syrup is not the same as the corn syrup you buy to make pies. Whereas regular corn syrup is all glucose, HFCS is composed of roughly half glucose and half fructose.

Interesting observations, but these assumptions do not mesh with the facts. The amount of fructose in high fructose corn syrup is about the same as sugar and honey. Two formulations of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS 42 and HFCS 55) include respectively, 42 and 55 percent fructose. That compares with 47 percent fructose in honey and 50 percent in table sugar. Agave nectar, a natural sweetener, contains 75 percent fructose.

And not all medical and nutrition experts agree that corn sweetener behaves differently in the digestive system or has a different effect on human health than any other sweetener. For example:

  • “We were wrong in our speculations on high fructose corn syrup about their link to weight.” Barry M. Popkin, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Nutrition, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  • “HFCS is glucose and fructose separated. Table sugar is glucose and fructose stuck together, but quickly separated by digestive enzymes. The body can hardly tell them apart.”Marion Nestle, Ph.D., Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health, New York University.
  • "There's no substantial evidence to support the idea that high fructose corn syrup is somehow responsible for obesity. If there was no high fructose corn syrup, I don't think we would see a change in anything important. I think there's this overreaction." Walter Willett, Ph.D., Chairman of the Nutrition Department, Harvard School of Public Health.
  • “The bottom line is there isn't a shred of evidence that high-fructose corn syrup is nutritionally any different from sugar.” Michael Jacobson, Ph.D., Executive Director, Center for Science in Public Interest.
  • “To pretend that a product sweetened with sugar is healthier than a product sweetened by high-fructose corn syrup is totally misguided.” Michael Jacobson, Ph.D., Executive Director, Center for Science in Public Interest


The problem with offering opinions that disagree with any movement’s established dogma is that folks become too entrenched in their own ideologies to consider another point of view. They preach to their own choir and the best we can do, perhaps, is offer another set of facts, supported by acknowledged experts, to prevent that body from growing too big.

It’s just sugar. And like all parts of our diets, it’s up to us to watch how much of it we consume. That means reading labels and adjusting recipes, meals and snacks accordingly. And it doesn’t hurt to walk a few blocks once in a while either.

Discuss this Blog Entry 2

onebeeswax (not verified)
on Oct 25, 2010
Nice rhetoric here, Ron, but I'm not buying it. Maybe you should have done a few courses in reality along with the English Major. Do I get a hint here that you have just sold a major advertising deal with the sugar industry in one of your pet publications? Feeding test do not verify what you are touting. Smooth sounding and authoritive statements aside, your facts are fiction. Sure, for the masses, bad sweeteners are better than no sweeteners and the hungry must be fed. But for the thinking and caring individual who wants to live a normal lifespan in radiant health the HFCS is poison. You go on ahead and poison the masses if you must, but some of us will stick with natural sweeteners from the plant kingdom, like fruit and honey. A tin of white paint is a tin of white paint, no? Well that is how ludicrious it sounds to me when you and your ilk declare with such convicion that molecule of sugar is a molecule of sugar. Oils aints oils, Sol. Ignore this simple fact to the peril of your own health. Caveat Emptor! JohnS
Kizzle (not verified)
on Oct 27, 2010
Beyond the selective sound-bites used in place of science... Sugars are not all the same. Just up to the aldohexoses (6-carbons, with aldehyde cap), there are 30 unique molecules. As for the vastly complex biochemical machine dealing with it... A simple first-year biology course covers glycolysis, the first ten steps of catabolic (breaking down nutrients) metabolism. Glucose is subject to the whole process, including steps one and three which are major --regulatory-- points. Fructose comes in after step three. The targets of these chemicals can be quite selective in their dealing with their 'keys.' Simple variations such as stereochemical differences (more subtle than the isomerization of sugars) can mean the difference between a chemical such as 'albuterol' functioning therapeutically or antagonistically. The FDA has recognized this in allowing the extension of patents for drugs refined to an enantiomerically pure form. The jury is still out on this, and as usual the truth probably lies in the middle somewhere. However, with that recent report about the gov't predicting rates of type 2 diabetes to triple by 2050, and a nation continuing to pack on the pounds, I prefer to err on the side of caution. Now I'm off to find five quotes claiming that the world is flat, and one against.

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