Does High-Fructose Corn Syrup Really Make You Fat?

Corn syrup can be enzymatically converted to change some of its glucose to fructose, yielding high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

HFCS first made its debut in the American food supply around 1970, when it accounted for about 0.5% of total sweetener use. It is produced when corn syrup undergoes processing to convert glucose to fructose. By the mid-2000s, almost half of all sweetened foods were sweetened with HFCS.

HFCS makes up a large proportion of added sweeteners in beverages and processed and packaged foods, including many canned foods, cereals, baked goods, desserts, flavored and sweetened dairy products, candy, and fast food.

Two forms of HFCS are used in the US food supply: HFCS-55, which is found mostly in carbonated beverages and is 55% fructose, 41% glucose, and 4% glucose polymers, and HFCS-42, which is found mostly in processed foods and contains slightly less fructose (42% fructose, 53% glucose, and 5% glucose polymers).

A study published in Am J Clin Nutr showed that availability and consumption of HFCS and added sugar increased over time until a slight decline between 2000 and 2004. By 2004, HFCS provided approximately 8% of total energy intake compared to total added sugar of 377 kcal/person/day, accounting for 17% of total energy intake. While food and beverage trends were similar, soft drinks and fruit drinks provided the most HFCS (158 and 40 kcal/person/day in 2004, respectively).

Food manufacturers prefer fructose to pure sugar (which is comprised of the sugar sucrose) because it is cheaper, which is in large part due to corn subsidies and other government policies aimed to increase corn production that has led to corn prices that are actually less than the cost of production. In addition, high tariffs on imported sugarcane make sweetening with all-natural sugar costly to food manufacturers.

After the publication of several animal studies and human studies of marginal quality that showed that HFCS may contribute to obesity, insulin resistance, and diabetes, as well as decreased feelings of fullness after consumption, health advocated and the media became alarmed that HFCS may contribute to negative health outcomes, including the surge in obesity.

Subsequent large scale human studies have not shown an increased risk of overweight, obesity, or metabolic disorders like diabetes when HFCS is consumed in reasonable amounts.

However, long-term high-quality controlled studies are limited. Of course, this is not to say that you can eat all the HFCS you want without risk of ill consequences. Rather, HFCS probably does not increase health risk more than sugar or other sweeteners. That said, the typical American still consumes about 13% of daily calories from added sugars which is approximately 270 extra empty calories per day that provide minimal nutritional value.

In total, the typical American eats about 20 pounds (9 kg) worth of added sugar over the course of a year.

Anyone trying to lose or control his or her weight or curb the risk of insulin resistance or diabetes should aim to minimize consumption of HFCS as well as other added sugars, including sucrose (table sugar) and other caloric sweeteners.

As you carefully scan ingredient lists, you will soon find that it does not matter whether you eat foods and drinks with pure sugar, HFCS, or any of the other many added sugars – trying to cut added sugars in the diet is a major challenge.

This is part of the reason why large-scale policies to reduce the added sugars including HFCS in the food supply are necessary to help people reduce excess caloric intake and achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

So glad to see you sticking around!

Want to be the first one to receive the new stuff?

Enter your email address below and we'll send you the goodies straight to your inbox.

Thank You For Subscribing!

This means the world to me!

Spamming is not included! Pinky promise.