Nutrition Mythbusters: High Fructose Corn Syrup
Myth: High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is much worse for our bodies than natural sugars like honey or cane sugar.
Fact: Are you trying to avoid HFCS? You’re not alone. HFCS seems to be everywhere—from soda to barbecue sauce. But is HFCS any worse for us than regular sugar? Let’s look at the sweet facts and fiction about this very commonly used sweetener.
What is High Fructose Corn Syrup? HFCS is made from corn starch and is a mixture of glucose and fructose. Table sugar is also a combination of about half glucose and half fructose, and that is why HFCS makes an excellent substitute for sugar. It’s similar in taste and sweetness, and it also functions like table sugar in food, by enhancing flavors and promoting browning of baked items.
Just like table sugar and other sweeteners (even the natural ones), HFCS contains about 16 calories per teaspoon. Our bodies metabolize HFCS just like they do regular sugar and other sweeteners, like honey.
So why the bad rap for HFCS? Some studies have shown a correlation between more HFCS in our food and the increase in obesity. It’s important to remember that correlation does not mean causation. Many factors have increased obesity over the last few decades—not just sugar. After an extensive review of all the evidence in 2007, researchers in Maryland concluded that HFCS does not have any unique issues that make it more responsible for weight gain than other foods with sugar (1).
Whether it’s sugar, honey, agave syrup, or HFCS, consuming too many calories from sweetened items is what causes weight gain. Make an effort to reduce ALL added sugars in your diet, not just HFCS. The American Heart Association’s recommendation is no more than nine teaspoons of added sugars for men and six teaspoons of added sugars for women (about 36 grams and 24 grams of “added sugars” on the food label, respectively).
Forshee, R.A., et al. (2007) A critical examination of the evidence relating high fructose corn syrup and weight gain. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 47: 561-582.