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The Skinny On: High Fructose Corn Syrup

When I started reading food labels, way back when, I must admit that I thought high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) was made out of fruit, because of the "fructose," as well as corn. Now that I have been schooled over the years, I know that this sweetener is made from cornstarch that goes through a serious amount of processing.

The Corn Refiners Association has started the sweet surprise ad campaign to try to reclaim consumers' hearts and dollars. Corn and all its permutations have been getting a bad rap of late, from sources like the documentary King Corn and Michael Pollan's treatise on eating In Defense of Food. The parallel growth of HFCS consumption and the obesity epidemic is the stuff from which seemingly correct, but nevertheless faulty armchair science is formed. Recent studies have found that HFCS as an ingredient isn't solely to blame for the obesity epidemic, since the human body processes HFCS and sugar in the same way and that they have the same caloric load.

To see how high fructose corn syrup differs from sugar, just


The truth is though that HFCS is not chemically the same as sugar. Sugar is sucrose and HFCS is made from glucose and fructose, but not a single molecule of sucrose. Fructose turns into fat in the liver, which is not healthy because it is not broken down earlier in the digestion process. Fructose has a negative impact on insulin and the hunger hormone leptin creating increased appetite. Even though HFCS is made from cornstarch degraded into glucose by using chemicals or enzymes degraded, then altered again with enzymes to convert fractions of glucose into fructose, it can still be labeled natural according to the FDA. This is as long as no synthetic fixing agents touch the sweet syrup in the manufacturing process.

The truth is that even after all that ecologically devastating processing, HFCS is cheaper to produce than sugar. In fact, the average American consumes 78 pounds of it a year and 500 of it calories a day. Cheap processed ingredients make inexpensive processed foods, and because they are cheap, widely available, with long shelf lives, more and more processed food is eaten. Leading to overeating foods that don't offer much nutritionally.

Once again, moderation is the key when it comes to any sweetener, processed or natural. Just like they say in those sweet surprise ads. If you need some corn in your life, why not just eat straight off the cob?


Join The Conversation
mtiger mtiger 8 years
I try to avoid it whenever possible, but I heard that if it's not listed in the first 5 ingredients, then there shouldn't be to much of it in the product. Also, avoid hydrogenized foods as well.
Spectra Spectra 8 years
Food manufacturers put HFCS in lots of foods that are ordinarily not "sweet" because it helps make food more palatable, supposedly. I'm pretty sure that's why Americans prefer our foods so darn countries where HFCS isn't so cheap and available, people don't eat food that's very sweet. That's one of the reasons those stupid ads bug me...they say "it's OK in moderation", but food manufacturers put it in absolutely everything. Also, it promotes eating processed foods...the one mom is pouring her kids a glass of basically HFCS, food coloring, and water and the other mom says "Wow, you don't care what you feed your kids, do you?" Because yeah, it's not just that it has HFCS in it, it's that it's NOT EVEN REAL JUICE. So yeah, the main way that I avoid HFCS is to try and avoid processed foods as often as possible.
DavidG DavidG 8 years
"The truth is though that HFCS is not chemically the same as sugar. Sugar is sucrose and HFCS is made from glucose and fructose, but not a single molecule of sucrose. Fructose turns into fat in the liver, which is not healthy because it is not broken down earlier in the digestion process. " Sucrose is one molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose. It is not difficult to turn sucrose into something chemically identical to HFCS (with separated glucose and fructose). Its called 'Invert Sugar' and is generally used when sugar is required in commercial food recipes. You can do it at home by boiling sugar with a little lemon juice. Your body cannot digest sucrose per se. It chemically severs the molecules and treats them exactly the same as HFCS. The problem is not HFCS or Sugar it's both of them because both of them contain fructose.
ilanac13 ilanac13 8 years
there have been SO MANY commercials lately about this 'substance' and i think that it's because no one really knows much about it so there are a lot of misconceptions. i guess it's always a good thing to know what you're really eating or avoiding that way you can be more educated about your choice rather than just doing what you grew up being told...
flyingroo flyingroo 8 years
Those ads are awful. They're so misleading. I'm a chemical engineer with a research Master in food science; I'm informed and I keep myself updated so when I see those ads I get so mad."Moderation"?! When HFCS is in almost every single processed product? I would say "define moderation" - if they are OK why don't they give a maximum recommended daily intake, like those required by for fats, etc.?
Shibi Shibi 8 years
HFCS is the new MSG.
ajennilynrushhh ajennilynrushhh 8 years
I've been knowing that it's bad, then when I saw the commercial I got even more disgusted because they make it sound like it's good! And yeah, so true about how it's in a lot of foods that it doesn't even need to be in!
Soniabonya Soniabonya 8 years
Ok, i thought i was the only one that got irked by those adds. They make it sound like HFCS is a good thing and that people should do their research before badmouthing it, but *most* people won't do research on it cause we're so damn lazy and that's what the ad campaign is counting on. It's the old "oh we saw it on a commercial so it must be true" mentality of the majority of americans. (i know it isn't THAT bad, but some people out there . . .) Thanks for the update Fit :)
GlowingMoon GlowingMoon 8 years
I disagree with those ads, too. Generally, I avoid high fructose corn syrup. It's high glycemic. I shy away from high glycemic foods. I get most of my sugar naturally from fresh fruit, veggies, etc.
ditorres ditorres 8 years
i truly find those commercials repulsive. It make me want to avoid HFCS even more! I hate deceptive ads. How can one moderately consume HFCS when it is in every processed foods?
curlykel13 curlykel13 8 years
UGH. My roommates all make fun of me because when those commercials come on I always throw things at the TV. I have IBS and try to completely eliminate HFCS from my diet but it's so hard!... I find HFCS in everything these days... jellies, canned soups, breads... ugh.
Xandara Xandara 8 years
Once you start reading ingredient labels, it's really surprising how much stuff has HFCS. Basically all my favorite things to eat and drink, haha! So finding something that doesn't have it in is almost like a victory, it seems, when you're trying to not eat so darn much of it.
angriv angriv 8 years
so true! it's in so many things that don't seem to need it. I guess they just add it in to increase shelf lives?! those commercials are so upsetting! i just hope people who see them are educated about nutrition and know that since the corn companies themselves are making the commercials for HFCS that it's probably biased!
Entertainment Entertainment 8 years
What bugs me is when there's HFCS in foods that don't need to have any sugar at all. Why is it in my bread? When I make bread in my bread machine, I don't use any sweeteners (except maybe honey) and certainly don't miss them!
said8me said8me 8 years
Gosh, I can't stand those commercials!!! That's like the gas companies saying that they are trying *really hard* to find different fuel solutions. LOL.
lizs lizs 8 years
If not worse. These ads have really been irking me, but I've just been hoping people aren't as gullible as the HFCS producers think they are.
superfoxml superfoxml 8 years
LaurenG22 LaurenG22 8 years
So is it as bad as I thought it was?
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