What's So Bad About High-Fructose Corn Syrup?

What's So Bad About High-Fructose Corn Syrup?

Posted September 24, 2012 at 8:00PM

High-fructose corn syrup has a bad reputation. So bad, in fact, that the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) launched an entire television ad campaign just to try to convince you that it was actually not that bad:

You probably saw this commercial as well as several others promising you you're in for a “sweet surprise” once you “get the facts” about HFCS. But you don't need to look any further than the comments on the video's youtube page to see how it was received by the public. So why all the hype around HFCS? What does science really say about how it compares with other sweeteners and with sugar?

According to Mayo Clinic nutritionist, Jennifer K. Nelson, the reason high-fructose corn syrup is so notorious among the sweeteners is because it is the most common added sweetener in processed foods and beverages. But studies on possible negative health effects have yielded mixed results.

In one such study conducted by researchers at Princeton University, results showed that rats given high-fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than rats which were given table sugar (sucrose). “When rats are drinking high-fructose corn syrup at levels well below those in soda pop, they're becoming obese – every single one,” said Professor Bart Hoebel, “even when rats are fed a high-fat diet, you don't see this; they don't all gain extra weight.”

The study goes on to explain the difference between HFCS and sucrose, stating that while both contain both fructose and glucose, HFCS contains a slightly higher ratio of fructose to glucose, hence the name high-fructose corn syrup. The researchers behind the study believe that the high obesity rate among the rats given HFCS is related to the fact that the excess fructose is being metabolized to produce fat, while glucose is being processed for energy or stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles.

However, many experts agree that all full calorie sweeteners, including sucrose and HFCS, affect the body in the same way. Dr. Barry Popkin, professor of nutrition at the UNC School of Public Health, explains that high-fructose corn syrup has a trivial amount more fructose than other sweeteners, but that all sugars contain about half fructose, and it's the properties of fructose which have an effect on our body.

The problem today, explains Dr. Popkin, is that sugar is often hidden in foods because it has so many different names which can be listed as separate ingredients. This can be deceiving because even if the total of sugar is the most prominent ingredient in a food item, it may be listed under several different names such as cane sugar, corn syrup, fructose, dextrose, sucrose, and many, many more.

But whether or not high-fructose corn syrup deserves its bad reputation, high amounts of any full calorie sweetener are detrimental to your health and have been   linked to obesity as well as other health concerns. If you really want to be safe, you should avoid high amounts of all types of added sugar, including HFCS.

For your entertainment, here is a parody response to the CRA's pro-HFCS ad seen above:


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