Nutrition 201: The Truth About High Fructose Corn Syrup

Types of diabetesFirst of all let’s answer the obvious question – what in the world is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). I won’t bore you with the scientific explanation and the molecular breakdown, basically it is a sweetener made from corn. It is also known as  fructose/glucose, isoglucose, and glucose-fructose syrup, (glucose is natural sugar). The primary difference between HFCS and cane sugar (regular sugar) is that one occurs in nature (sugar) while the other is a chemical compound (HFCS). The sugar substitute is used in almost every packaged good unless otherwise stated. The popularity of HFCS came about as a result of the United States high tariffs (taxes) on cane sugar. The food industry created this chemical compound as a substitute. It is extracted from corn silk but the “how” is a highly proprietary well-kept secret by the industry. You need to ask yourself “why?”.

With this in mind let’s move to the raging debate over the elimination of HFCS from our food supply. Perhaps you’ve seen the ads sponsored by the makers of HFCS claiming that it is the same as sugar. Anytime the food industry spends this much on advertising, you have to ask yourself “WHY?”. Here are the impacts of HFCS on our bodies and our society:

  • Obesity rates have shot up with the increased use of HFCS. Because it is so cheap to produce it’s easy to put in just about everything soft drinks, cereal, bread, etc., that the sheer volume of sugar consumed has increased wildly. Whether it’s cane sugar or “lab” sugar, the increase of consumption leads to obesity. A 2004 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that the increase use of HFCS by the food industry has kept pace with the obesity rate. Cutting out processed foods that include HFCS simply cuts down on the amount of sugar you’re ingesting. 
  • Sugar may be sugar at a molecular level the body treats them as different. One very important difference is that fructose does not stimulate insulin secretion. Insulin is needed by the body to absorb sugar, glucose, from the blood. Without that the sugar hangs around in the body. A lack of insulin secretion leads to type II diabetes. Fructose gets absorbed directly into the liver and can lead to a condition called “fatty liver”. High doses of fructose may actually create holes in the intestinal lining allowing gut bacteria to roam freely. 
  • HFCS can also contain mercury. Mercury is known to be a toxin in large doses. Pregnant women aren’t even allowed to fish due to exposure to mercury, yet it’s contained in HFCS. The mercury comes from the chlor-alkali products used in manufacturing.

When you get to the proverbial root of what’s in your food, you will discover that it’s just not that good for you. What should you do with this information? 

  1. Read the nutrition labels and opt for foods that don’t contain HFCS, it’s not necessary
  2. If you’re indulging in a sugary treat, make sure it’s real cane sugar that occurs in nature
  3. Opt for natural desserts such as fruit, you’re taste buds will get used to it

Lastly, ask yourself why a food industry is so bent on convincing you a chemical compound is safe for you. By not buying foods that contain HFCS you’re voting with your dollars. At the end of the day the company is interested in profits. If they lose money, they’ll change to meet the demand. Keep yourself informed, a site I discovered is full of great information,






Mercury from chlor-alkali plants: measured concentrations in food product sugar Renee Dufault, Blaise LeBlanc, Roseanne Schnoll, Charles Cornett, Laura Schweitzer, David Wallinga, Jane Hightower, Lyn Patrick, Walter J Lukiw
Environ Health. 2009; 8: 2. Published online 2009 January 26. doi: 10.1186/1476-069X-8-2 PMCID:  PMC2637263
Bray, G.A., Nielsen, S.J., and B.M. Popkin. 2004. Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesityAm J Clin Nutr. 79(4):537-43. Review.




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