Is High Fructose Corn Syrup a Healthy Alternative to Sugar?

Take a look at this year’s Halloween candy ingredients. You will be shocked to see how many candy items contain High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) instead of sugar.

What is HFCS’s history and is it healthier than sugar?

Michael Pollan, an author who has written books and articles, investigates the perils of the industrial food chain—and the benefits and pleasures of freeing ourselves from it, explains:

When Japanese chemists "broke the sweetness barrier," in the words of the Corn Refiners Association's official history of high- fructose corn sweetener. They discovered that an enzyme called glucose isomerase could transform glucose into the much sweeter sugar molecule called fructose. By the 1970s the process of refining corn into fructose had been perfected, and high-fructose corn syrup—which is a blend of 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose that tastes exactly as sweet as sucrose—came onto the market. Today it is the most valuable food product refined from corn, accounting for 530 million bushels every year. (A bushel of com yields thirty -three pounds of fructose.)

What happens to your body when you consume HFCS?

Instead of being utilized as an efficient fuel, HFCS wreaks havoc on your body and significantly accelerates the storage of body fat.  

Renowned clinical nutritionist Robert Crayhon has explained:

Fructose is the guest that won’t go home once the party is over.  Instead, it just lingers around reaping metabolic havoc via a process known as glycation, whereby the fructose binds to amino acids leading to such lovely things as fat gain and metabolic aging.

Charles Poliquin, a world renown personal trainer, explains:

Recent research shows that when you consume food or beverages with added fructose, it will slow your metabolic rate, halt fat burning in the body, and the liver will turn any excess fructose into fat very quickly.  

A study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared the effects of eating a diet that was high in fructose-based carbohydrates with one that included mainly glucose-derived carbs on body composition in overweight individuals.  Researchers had participants eat a diet that was 15% protein, 30% fat, and 55% carbohydrate for 10 weeks.

Both groups gained fat, but the fructose group gained more fat, most of which was visceral belly fat. They also decreased their metabolic rate, meaning they burned fewer calories at rest after the 10 weeks, which is never a good thing because it will lead to an excess energy balance and fat gain. Fat burning was also decreased in the group that ate the fructose, which is a very unfavorable result because it leads to fat accumulation in the liver and decreased insulin sensitivity.

How much HFCS are we consuming?

Michael Pollan writes:

Since 1985, an Americans annual consumption of HFCS has gone from forty-five to sixty-six pounds.  

What does 66lbs of HFCS equate to?   

  • 88 cups of HFCS a year

  • 1/4 cup per day (1/4 cup is equal to 4 tablespoons)

Keep in mind, 1 serving size of HFCS is 1 tablespoon. That same tablespoon has 16 grams of “sugar” in it. According to the How Much Sugar Do You Consume?, an adult average male should only consume no more than 27 grams per day.  An adult female should consume no more than 18 grams per day.

A 12-oz Coca Cola can contain 39 grams of HFCS. A 20-oz has 65 grams. A 32-oz “supersized” container has 86 grams of HFCS. How much corn did it take to produce 86 grams?  1/3 of a pound of corn kernels.

What’s crazy to think about is that my family consumes HFCS only a couple of times a year. Since we are not consuming HFCS, the statistics are actually higher for most people than the 1/4 cup per day.

Here are some products that have HFCS in them.

  • Soda

  • Candy

  • Yogurt

  • Salad dressing

  • Frozen foods (pizza, TV dinners, convenience foods)

  • Bread

  • Soup

  • Canned tomatoes

  • Canned fruit

  • Pickles

  • Juice


Companies switched to High Fructose Corn Syrup quite simply because it's cheaper than sugar.

Pollan explains further:

By 1984 Coca-Cola and Pepsi had switched over entirely from sugar to HFCS.  Why? Because HFCS was a few cents cheaper than sugar and consumers didn't seem to notice the substitution.  

What Can you Do?

Understand that HFCS is not a healthy alternative sweetener to sugar. Actually, it is worse.  As described by Crayhon, it’s the guest at the party that won’t leave. It is very difficult for your body to process and will dramatically accelerate the accumulation of visceral belly fat.  Read the labels! If you see HFCS, put it back on the shelf. If you consume it, you most likely will be carrying it around on your waist for a long time to come!

Steven Zahn

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