Home / Why High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) Is Toxic for Your Body

Why High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) Is Toxic for Your Body

Please Share...Print this pageTweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook0Share on Google+0Pin on Pinterest0Share on Tumblr0Share on StumbleUpon0Share on Reddit0Email this to someone

First, let’s get clear on definitions for sugar and high fructose corn syrup (or HFCS). Table sugar, which is technically known as “sucrose,” is made from a recipe that’s 50% glucose and 50% fructose. High Fructose Corn Syrup, on the other hand, is made from a recipe of 45% glucose and 55% fructose. The other difference is that table sugar/sucrose typically comes from beets and HFCS comes from corn. HFCS was developed to taste like sugar, and it does. It was introduced to the U.S. food market in 1978, and in less than 10 years half of all calorically sweetened food and drink products in the U.S. were made with HFCS.

This is especially true for so-called low-fat, healthy foods like yogurts, juice drinks, snack bars, and cereals. If you take the time to look at the ingredients list of foods that come in a package, it’s highly likely you’ll see corn syrup or HFCS listed as one of the first three foods in the recipe. The ingredients list is always on the back of the food package. It’s always in the smallest print, and it’s sometimes hidden under a flap. Nonetheless, this is the most important information on the package because it’s the one and only way you can figure out what you’re putting in your mouth.

Because of the word “fructose,” people aren’t exactly sure what to think of HFCS. Fructose is a natural sweetening substance found in fruits, and everyone knows we’re supposed to eat lots of fruits to be healthy. Keep in mind this article is focused on the unnatural, excessive amount of fructose that’s added to our food supply by food manufacturers and is not concerned with the fructose that occurs naturally in fruits.

Of course, food manufacturers take advantage of the healthy association with fruit and do their best to convince consumers that fructose is a good, smart choice as a sweetening agent. Perhaps you’ve seen the current TV ad campaign where two young, attractive people come to the conclusion that HFCS is okay. It is, after all, “natural.” It has the same calories as sugar, and it’s marketed as being processed by the body the same way as sugar.

Another confusing factor that makes it hard to get a handle on HFCS is the concept of the glycemic index, which is a measure of how fast some carbohydrates break down into blood sugar and prompt an insulin response. The higher the concentration of blood sugar, the bigger the glycemic index.

While the glycemic index is a useful tool for predicting insulin response, it only provides a partial, incomplete picture of what’s going on with HFCS because the glycemic index doesn’t register or measure fructose. Consequently, foods made with HFCS can have a relatively low glycemic index because the 55% fructose in the HFCS recipe is ignored. This creates the false and misleading impression that fructose is healthier than sugar and that it’s okay for diabetics.

It’s important to understand that fructose and glucose metabolize differently. Glucose goes directly into the blood stream where it’s converted to blood sugar, and fructose goes directly into the liver where it’s converted to trigylcerides. A triglyceride is a liquid form of fat. So when you eat or drink foods made with HFCS, 55% is converted to fat molecules.

The fat floats around in your bloodstream, gets deposited in your fat cells, and attaches to your blood vessels to form plaques. This action all goes relatively unnoticed, however, because fructose is under the radar, so to speak. Even more, triglyceride production accelerates when massive amounts of fructose are consumed over a long period of time. And lastly, high triglyceride levels have also been shown to drag up total cholesterol levels.

Here are the current guidelines for triglyceride levels, which are measured by taking a blood test:
Normal is less than 150

Borderline high is 150 to 199
High is 200 to 499
Very high is 500 or greater

It seems illogical and contrary that a fat-free food like HFCS can have such a big impact on fat production, but this is exactly what happens in your body. The technical term is “carbohydrate induced lipemia,” which is an excessive amount of fat in the blood from carbohydrates. Yet dietary fat continues to take the rap as the root cause of obesity and disease. In fact, our culture is so obsessively fat phobic, no one thinks it’s healthy to put a pat of butter on their veggies, but everyone happily slugs down yogurt made with HFCS as a primary ingredient.

Between 1976 and 1980, before experts started telling us to stop eating fat, one out of every three was overweight. The national obesity rate was around 13% and the national overweight rate was around 30%. During the next 30 years the average national fat consumption dropped from 40% to 34%, a huge, statistically significant change, but now two out of every three are overweight.

As you probably know, the national obesity rate recently jumped to 33%, and the national overweight rate skyrocketed to 66%. The universe must be playing a big cosmic joke on us because we’re eating less fat but getting fatter! Can it possibly be a coincidence that the introduction of HFCS into our food supply in 1978 parallels the dramatic increase in obesity and overweight in our country?

Unfortunately for you, the bulk of scientific research attention is still focused on dietary fat and cholesterol, very little is on sugar/sucrose, and even less is on HFCS. That said, the destructive role that excessive amounts of fructose plays in high triglyceride production is slowly coming to light.

As it turns out, for example, it’s much more likely that cardiac patients will have high triglycerides than high total cholesterol, and something called the “athrogenic profile” could become the single best predictor of heart disease risk. This profile is comprised of just two factors: high triglycerides and low HDL (the healthy cholesterol). “Athrogenic” is a new term that refers to conditions that result in plaque build-up in the blood vessels.

Then there’s metabolic syndrome, which is defined by the presence of five indicators: 1) high blood pressure, 2) high blood sugar, 3) too much fat around the waist, 4) low HDL (the healthy cholesterol), and 5) high tryglicerides. Did you notice that high total cholesterol or high LDL cholesterol isn’t on this list, but high triglycerides are? In addition to heart disease, metabolic syndrome puts you at risk for diabetes, stroke, and probably Alzheimer’s.

HFCS poses a potent triple threat because the glucose in it contributes to high blood sugar, the fructose in it contributes to high triglycerides, and both glucose and fructose contribute to fat around the waist.

It will take another 20 years or so for nutritional guidelines from our government to change and for the message about the toxic effects of HFCS to become more mainstream. In the meantime, think and act for yourself and consider just saying no to HFCS. It’s the easiest, healthiest detox program in the world! While you’re at it, think about getting rid of sugar, too, which is no better for you.

Powered by

About Karen Bentley

Author, Educator, Speaker, Founder of The Sugar-Free Institute and creator of The Sugar-Free Miracle Diet. Visit www.karenbentley.com, www.sugarfreeinstitute.com, www.sugarfreemiracle.com.
  • Cynthia1770

    Great summary of the tyranny of HFCS.
    Here’s more fuel for your fire. Go to ADM’s
    website. They make Cornsweet90 which is 90% fructose:10% glucose. It’s used in low cal
    products so manufacturers can provide the same sweeteness with fewer calories. I pity the poor slob who, trying to shed a few ounds, reaches for a bottle of low-fat, low-cal, low-sugar something not knowing that
    he will receive a bolus of free fructose which will only contriubute to interruption
    of the hunger-satiety hormones, more fat production, and thus added weight.

  • Fructose is the problem because it is metabolized by the liver, whereas all cells can metabolize glucose. Fructose is sweeter than glucose. Table sugar is 50% fructose. HFCS is 55%–but it is sweeter! HFCS will require a smaller amount to sweeten to the same sweetness as table sugar.

    Conclusion: 6 of 1, half a dozen of the other. Whatever claims you are making regarding HFCS will be essentially the same with table sugar–since less HFCS = more table sugar. I recommend sweetening your coffee with glucose. Until then, why not cut down on all processed sugars and when you do enjoy them, don’t worry about HFCS vs sugar.

  • Karen,

    Our campaign efforts are to clear up the misinformation that surrounds high-fructose corn syrup; in our efforts to present the facts to consumers, we believe our messages have also been misinterpreted.

    For example, our goal is not to present high fructose corn syrup as a health food, nor is our goal to increase consumption of high fructose corn syrup. Our goal is to clear up confusion about its role in the food and beverages Americans consume.

    As you note, the Glycemic Index (GI) is a ranking of foods, beverages and ingredients based on their immediate effect on blood glucose levels. The GI measures how much blood sugar increases over a period of two or three hours after a meal. Some scientists believe that selecting foods with a low GI helps in diabetes management.

    Carbohydrate foods that break down quickly during digestion have the highest GI. The benchmark in many indexes is glucose, with a GI of 100. Compared with glucose, the GI of fructose is very low with a value of 20. Sugar and honey, both with similar compositions to high fructose corn syrup, have moderate GI values that range from 55 to 60. Although it has not yet been specifically measured, high fructose corn syrup would be expected to have a moderate GI because of its similarity in composition to honey and sugar. Foster-Powell K, et al. 2002. International table of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2002. Am J Clin Nutr 76:5-56

    It must be kept in mind that the body does not respond to the GI of individual ingredients, but rather to the GI of the entire meal. Since added sugars (principally sugar and high fructose corn syrup) typically contribute less than 20 percent of calories, it is clear that high fructose corn syrup is a minor contributor to the overall GI in a normal diet. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. 2009. Calories: average daily per capita calories from the U.S. food supply, adjusted for spoilage and other waste. Loss-Adjusted Food Availability Data

    We, as do many dietitians agree that all sugars should be consumed in moderation. The important part to note is that scientists continue to confirm that high fructose corn syrup is no different from other sweeteners. It is essentially the same as table sugar and honey, and has the same number of calories.


    Therese, Corn Refiners Association

  • Cont…

    In fact the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data show that per capita consumption of high fructose corn syrup has been declining in recent years, yet the incidence of obesity and diabetes in the United States remains on the rise; moreover, many other parts of the world have rising rates of obesity and diabetes, despite having little or no high fructose corn syrup in their foods and beverages. (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. 2009. Table 52 High fructose corn syrup: estimated number of per capita calories consumed daily, by calendar year. Sugar and Sweeteners Yearbook. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2009. U.S. Obesity Trends.

    Are there any other concerns that you have? As noted above we understand that moderation is important and we see that you are an expert on sugar-free eating. I think Food and Nutrition Columnist, Jo-Ann Heslin says it best, when she notes: “High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a sugar, nothing more, nothing less. If you choose not to eat it, I’m fine with that decision. But your decision should be made because you have decided to eat less sweetened foods and drinks, not because you believe HFCS is some dietary devil to be avoided at all costs.”

    Therese, Corn Refiners Association

  • Cynthia1770,

    I know this has been a concern that you have listed before.

    HFCS-90 is used to blend with HFCS-42 to make the 55% fructose syrup, HFCS-55. HFCS-90 is also used in a small number of specialty applications, where it’s added sweetness can be used to reduce calories in a product as you mention, or its higher fructose content can be used to control the freezing point of frozen confections or reduce freezer damage in frozen fruits. These commercial applications use very little HFCS-90, accounting for less than 0.1% of the sales volume of all HFCS combined.

    HFCS-55 is used primarily in carbonated beverages and accounts for 60% of the US supply. HFCS-42 is used primarily in breads, jams, yogurts, etc.,…accounts for 40%. You can find additional data at Table 30

    Therese, Social Media Manager, CRA

  • Daria

    This is a great article. Thank you for posting it. It has confirmed many of my suspicions.

  • Joanna C

    Fantastic comments and use of scientific literature to prove that something so toxic for you can look so good. It is funny how I can do that too.
    For instance, as the author mentions, as the fructose is broken down it is turned into triglycerides and then stored as fat, namely in the abdomen region. HFSC has been DIRECTLY linked to this phenomenon (High-fructosecornsyrup causes characteristics of obesity in rats: Increased body weight, body fat and triglyceride levels
    Miriam E. Bocarslya, b, Elyse S. Powella, b, Nicole M. Avenaa, b, c, Bartley G. Hoebela, b)
    and per the American Diabetes Association and the CDC, abdominal fat puts you at greater risk for diabetes.

    Ergo, one might argue, increased consumption leads to diabetes. Which brings us to another correlation, rise in diabetes with introduction of HFCS. In 1978, the year this sweetener was introduced, the national level of diabetes was 2.37% or 5.19 million people. In 2005 it rose to 5.61% or 16.32 million people! And God save us, in 2010 over 21 million people in America have diabetes. Want to justify that?

    Now you will argue that there is no direct proof yada yada yada and that you can find some heavily biased, statistically invalid study to support your dribble, but the truth is, HFCS is a poison. Perhaps if we only had one soda a week, it would be ok, but we don’t and that is your fault.

    Humans target food based on sweet and fatty flavors–an evolutionary trick established to keep us strong during periods of starvation. “Food scientists” and others in the food industry design their food, like HFCS, to be extra sweet, to play into this evolutionary mechanism and make us want more. In essence, you have designed it so that it is impossible to have just one drink or one fry.

    Please think about that next time you post about the goodness of HFCS. This is not a personal attack and I bet, working with that nastiness, you don’t even ingest any and I don’t blame you. I just wish you would stop misleading the public in order for your bosses to get bigger paychecks