Pouring Sugar

6 min read

Why Is High Fructose Corn Syrup Bad for You?

Sugar, in its purest form, is not bad for your health when consumed in moderation. However, the same cannot be said of high fructose corn syrup—a sweetener that's contributing to the rise of obesity rates in the U.S. according to some data. And unfortunately, you'll find this ingredient in many of your favorite foods. But why is high-fructose corn syrup bad for you? Let’s find out!

What is High Fructose Corn Syrup?

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a sweetener made from corn syrup that's processed to increase its fructose content. It is widely used in the food industry as a cheaper alternative to other types of sweeteners like sucrose, honey, and maple syrup. HFCS is sweeter than sugar and you can find it in many products such as soft drinks, desserts, condiments, and many processed foods. 

According to some experts, HFCS has direct links to health issues such as obesity and diabetes. Although the research here is still inconclusive, it’s important to read labels, consume HFCS in moderation, and opt for natural sweeteners whenever possible. Additionally, limiting your intake of processed foods can help reduce the amount of HFCS and other added sugars in your diet.

Fructose vs Glucose

Glucose and fructose are monosaccharides or simple sugars. Glucose is the most common form of sugar found in nature, and it's also the primary source of energy for cells. Fructose is a sweetener that occurs naturally in fruits and honey. It's much sweeter than glucose but not as easily digested by the body. 

Glucose breaks down into energy quickly, whereas fructose may take a longer time to absorb and convert to energy in the body. Excessive fructose consumption could also lead to an increased risk of developing metabolic syndrome and other health issues. So, it's important to be mindful of your intake of both glucose and fructose.

High Fructose Corn Syrup vs Sugar

When it comes to comparing HFCS and sugar, there are some important differences. Both are sweeteners found in many processed foods, but HFCS comes from corn and has a higher fructose content than regular table sugar. HFCS is also generally cheaper than sugar, which makes it a popular choice for food manufacturers. However, both contain the same amount of carbohydrates and both raise blood glucose levels when consumed. Eating too much sugar or HFCS may contribute to weight gain, tooth decay, and other health issues such as diabetes.

When choosing between HFCS and sugar, it is important to look at the ingredients of processed foods to make an informed decision about which one is a better choice for you. Since many processed foods contain large amounts of added sugars like HFCS, it’s important to be mindful of your overall sugar intake, regardless of whether it comes from HFCS or sugar, and try to limit your consumption of processed foods.

High Fructose Corn Syrup vs Corn Syrup

The primary difference between HFCS and regular corn syrup is that HFCS contains higher levels of fructose than regular corn syrup. HFCS is created by changing some of the glucose in corn syrup into fructose, resulting in a sweeter and more intense flavor. 

Foods with High Fructose Corn Syrup

Some foods that contain high fructose corn syrup include: 

  • Regular soda

  • Ketchup

  • Applesauce

  • Canned fruit made with syrup

  • Candy, such as lollipops and gummy bears

Is High Fructose Corn Syrup Bad for You?

Links exist between HFCS and a variety of health issues, including weight gain and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Long-term studies show that consuming high amounts of HFCS can lead to metabolic disorders, inflammation, and other serious conditions. Additionally, research suggests that this sweetener may promote fatty liver disease and have an impact on the gut microbiome.

When consumed in large amounts, HFCS can cause changes in your body’s energy balance, which may lead to weight gain and obesity. HFCS could also increase blood sugar levels, making it a possible risk factor for type 2 diabetes. But ultimately, the “dose makes the poison”. In other words, eating a treat made with high fructose corn syrup once in a while will likely not cause harm, but consistently eating large quantities could result in some unsavory health effects.

High Fructose Corn Syrup Side Effects

What are those unsavory side effects? Here are some of the negative side effects you could experience when consuming HFCS in excessive quantities:

  1. Increased Risk of Weight Gain: High fructose corn syrup could lead to a greater risk of weight gain and obesity since the body metabolizes it differently than other sugars.

  2. Higher Blood Pressure Levels: Consuming high amounts of high fructose corn syrup can increase your blood pressure levels and put you at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease.

  3. Diabetes: Regular consumption of high fructose corn syrup may lead to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, as it may elevate levels of insulin resistance in the body.

  4. Liver Damage: Consuming too much high fructose corn syrup could lead to fatty liver disease, which is a condition that affects the liver’s ability to function normally.

  5. Tooth Decay: High fructose corn syrup is often found in processed foods and drinks, which can cause tooth decay due to the high amount of sugar they contain.

  6. Heart Disease: Too much high fructose corn syrup could result in higher levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, which can increase your risk of developing heart disease.

  7. Kidney Problems: High fructose corn syrup is high in sugar, which can put a strain on your kidneys and cause them to perform at reduced levels. This can lead to many health problems over time.

  8. Inflammation: Regular consumption of high fructose corn syrup could increase levels of inflammation in the body, which can put you at higher risk for several chronic diseases.

What Are Some Safer Alternatives to High Fructose Corn Syrup?

It’s best to avoid high fructose corn syrup in large quantities. But what if you have a sweet tooth? Fortunately, there are several safer alternatives to high fructose corn syrup that are healthier and easier on the body: 

  • Raw honey: One of the most popular options due to its natural sweetness and abundance of nutrients. 

  • Molasses: Also a great choice, as it’s full of B vitamins and trace minerals.

  • Maple syrup: It’s become increasingly popular in recent years due to its flavor and color, and it delivers some nutrients and antioxidants. 

  • Dates: They’re gaining recognition for their sweetness while also providing antioxidants, fiber, potassium, and other essential minerals. 

  • Stevia: This natural sweetener comes from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. It contains no calories or carbohydrates and the natural compounds are up to 300 times sweeter than sugar, so you only need a small amount of stevia to achieve the same level of sweetness as sugar. Stevia also has no significant effect on blood glucose or insulin levels, making it an attractive alternative for people with diabetes. 

 

Are you a soda drinker? Instead of drinking traditional sodas made with high fructose corn syrup, opt for a stevia-sweetened OLIPOP can instead!

High Fructose Corn Syrup: The Takeaway

Ultimately, avoiding high fructose corn syrup is an important step in maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle. While it may take some adjustment, there are plenty of safe and delicious alternatives. And here are a few other great ways to help avoid HFCS while infusing more healthy goodness into your diet: 

  • Choose natural and whole foods: Instead of processed and packaged foods loaded with high fructose corn syrup, opt for fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes to get the healthiest nutrition possible.

  • Read the label: When selecting food items at the grocery store or restaurant, take the time to read the nutrition labels. Look for items that don't contain high fructose corn syrup or other added sugars.

  • Avoid sugary drinks and sodas: Sodas, juices, sports drinks, and energy drinks overflow with added sugars such as high fructose corn syrup. Stick to water, herbal tea, or OLIPOP instead whenever possible.

  • Limit fast food intake: Fast foods like hamburgers, french fries, and fried chicken are often cooked in HFCS-based oils. Try to avoid these items when possible and opt for healthier options.

  • Prepare meals at home: Making meals from scratch can help reduce the number of processed ingredients that contain high fructose corn syrup. If you don’t have time to cook, try meal prepping ahead of time.

  • Choose lower sugar alternatives: If you crave something sweet, go for alternatives that contain less sugar such as dried fruits or dark chocolate. But keep in mind that you should enjoy these snacks in moderation too! 

Sources

  1. Arumugam, B., Subramaniam, A., & Alagaraj, P. (2020). Stevia as a Natural Sweetener: A Review. Cardiovascular and Hematological Agents in Medicinal Chemistry, 18(2), 94–103. https://doi.org/10.2174/1871525718666200207105436 

  2. Bray, G. A., Nielsen, S. J., & Popkin, B. M. (2004). Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 79(4), 537–543. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/79.4.537 

  3. Jensen, T., Abdelmalek, M. F., Sullivan, S., Nadeau, K. J., Green, M. C., Roncal, C., Nakagawa, T., Kuwabara, M., Sato, Y., Kang, D. H., Tolan, D. R., Sánchez-Lozada, L. G., Rosen, H. R., Lanaspa, M. A., Diehl, A. M., & Johnson, R. J. (2018). Fructose and sugar: A major mediator of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Journal of Hepatology, 68(5), 1063–1075. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhep.2018.01.019 

  4. Khorshidian, N., Shadnoush, M., Khajavi, M. Z., Sohrabvandi, S., Yousefi, M., & Larijani, B. (2021). Fructose and high fructose corn syrup: are they a two-edged sword? International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 72(5), 592–614. https://doi.org/10.1080/09637486.2020.1862068 

  5. Nutrition, C. F. F. S. a. A. (2018). High Fructose Corn Syrup Questions and Answers. U.S. Food And Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/food/food-additives-petitions/high-fructose-corn-syrup-questions-and-answers 

  6. Rippe, J. M., & Angelopoulos, T. J. (2013). Sucrose, High-Fructose Corn Syrup, and Fructose, Their Metabolism and Potential Health Effects: What Do We Really Know? Advances in Nutrition, 4(2), 236–245. https://doi.org/10.3945/an.112.002824

Cheat Sheet
  • High fructose corn syrup is a sweetener made from corn syrup that's processed to increase its fructose content. It is widely used in the food industry as a cheaper sugar alternative.
  • High fructose corn syrup has links to many unsavory side effects when consumed in excess such as an increased risk of weight gain, higher blood pressure, diabetes, liver damage, tooth decay, and more.
  • For those who are trying to avoid high fructose corn syrup while continuing to enjoy a sweet taste, there are many ways to satisfy a sweet tooth with options like fruit, dark chocolate, and OLIPOP.
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