Is High-Fructose Corn Syrup Just Corn?

Screen shot from the commercial online
Screen shot from the commercial online

Have you seen those commercials in which people walk around lush green fields of corn crops? They’re sponsored by the Corn Refiners Association to address the confusion about high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and promote it as a natural sweetener. These advertisements highly contradict the growing health concerns linked to consumption of HFCS.

HFCS is a highly processed sweetener that is (not entirely) made from corn. There are different ratios of fructose to glucose in it, but the most common form that we see as consumers is approximately 55% fructose to 45% glucose. We find it in pretty much everything: soda, candy, crackers, cookies, ice cream, and even cough syrup. This entire attack on HFCS has waged a war on sugar and even fructose with which I do not agree. I support the movement to reduce HFCS intake by Americans in the form of sodas, but I do not support the claim that all fructose is bad. Honey is made of fructose, but we don’t condemn that!

There is, however, a blaring benefit of using HFCS in our food. It makes our food more affordable. But at what intrinsic cost? Some of the health problems linked to HFCS are obesity and diabetes because our bodies do may not metabolize HFCS like regular sugar. Many make a bigger leap and connect it to other chronic diseases. I don’t think that this is fair because obesity, diabetes, and chronic diseases are also prominent  in countries that ban HFCS. I’ve been reading many scientific research studies on it and everyone is up in arms about it. There is no clear answer. Some studies conclude that HFCS reduces Ghrelin, the hunger hormone, which means that our appetites remain stimulate even when we are full. Other repeat studies refute this claim.

So, what is the alternative to HFCS? Unfortunately: sugar. Last summer, my brother and I went to Safeway to buy some BBQ to marinate some chicken for dinner. On the full wall of BBQ sauces, only one did not contain HFCS. Of course, it was the most expensive one. Instead of using HFCS, the BBQ used sugar to flavor it. I felt better about using it but then I thought, is sugar really much better? It’s definitely still processed, high in calories, and low in nutrients. I don’t think it’s a much better choice, do you? This doesn’t give us free rein to use sugar freely rather than consuming foods with HFCS.

Here’s my advice about HFCS:

  1. Read the nutrition label of everything you buy. It’ll be listed under “Ingredients.”
  2. Avoid foods with HFCS in it. Most highly processed foods has it like soda, juices, cookies, crackers, chips, etc. (aka choose foods that don’t have HFCS).
  3. Choose naturally sweet foods like fruits and vegetables instead. They contain nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fiber which make them healthy foods even though they have sugar. They’re nature and less processed!
  4. Moderate your daily ADDED sugar intake to 2 tablespoons for women and 3 tablespoons for men. This includes agave, raw sugar, and regular sugar. Remember, this is sugar ADDED to your diet like in your coffee, not the natural sugar found in fruits and vegetables.

There’s a part of me that wants to say “RUN AWAY FROM HFCS” but overall, I am not sure if HFCS is bad. Although many people will say that it is (and I do lean to this side), there is no clear long-term evidence yet. Still, the high-processed, low nutrient nature of it makes me extremely weary. There are healthier whole food choices out there which I’d rather choose over HFCS. What do you think?

Check out this hilarious spoof by SNL–

(This entry was dedicated to Anoush Cyrus, who asked me to examine HFCS and share the findings with you all. I hope I answered your question) 🙂

Thomas Ngo
Dietetic Intern
NASM Certified Personal Trainer


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