High-Fructose Corn Syrup – the fastest way to fatten up


I’ve touched on this topic before, but I think it is worth the reminder that if we really want to maintain or regain our health, we really MUST avoid high fructose corn syrup like the plague. On food labels as Fructose-Glucose in Canada, high-fructose sweeteners are also deceptively labelled as inulin, iso-glucose, dahlia syrup, tapioca syrup, glucose syrup, corn syrup, crystalline fructose, agave syrup, and even fruit fructose. High-fructose sweeteners whether made from corn or from agave do a really good job of messing up our metabolism, which leads to diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, osteoporosis and cancer.

The food-processing industry turned away from sugar from sugar cane and sugar beet when they discovered that a far less expensive, far sweeter sweetener that actually extended shelf life could be made from corn. So, from about 1970 when it was introduced into the food supply, we have been consuming larger and larger quantities of fructose, and interestingly enough, the rise in obesity levels has paralleled this increase. I admit that over that time we have also become less active, so clearly fructose is not entirely to blame, but all the same, it gives pause for thought.

Fructose was initially hailed as a boon to diabetics as it does not raise insulin levels like glucose does when it is metabolized. However, over time, high fructose consumption seems to increase insulin resistance by reducing insulin's affinity to its receptor, which causes the body to put out more insulin, further worsening the situation for diabetics. We now know that fructose is metabolized exclusively by the liver, converting into triglycerides (fats) very quickly. Fatty livers, increased triglycerides and uric acid in the blood-stream are a side-effect. High plasma uric acid is associated with heart disease.  Fructose contains no enzymes, minerals or vitamins, and uses our body’s resources for its processing.  Fructose does not stimulate insulin, nor does it stimulate leptin, two hormones that control satiety and therefore appetite, and it does not suppress ghrelin, a hormone that increases hunger. Therefore high fructose consumption may result in higher calorie consumption and weight gain.

Sucrose, or table sugar is made up of about 50% fructose and 50% glucose, and high fructose corn syrup is usually about 55% fructose and 45% glucose. How is it possible that that 5% difference can be so problematic? The reason is that in sucrose, the fructose is bound to glucose, but in high fructose corn syrup, there is much more free or unbound fructose, which interferes with the body’s use of minerals like copper, magnesium, iron, calcium and chromium. Copper deficiencies, common in those that consume high amounts of high-fructose corn syrup, can lead to osteoporosis, heart arrhythmias, insulin resistance, anemia, and unhealthy connective tissue and arteries due to problems in collagen and elastin formation. Manual therapists have noted that many kids of today feel like mush – their tissues don’t have the right consistency. Liver, an excellent source of copper, is rarely fed to today’s children.

Probably the biggest reason that high-fructose corn syrup is such a problem is that it is absolutely everywhere in our food supply, even in foods that one would not expect, resulting in us eating large quantities of the stuff, often completely unawares. The biggest HFC syrup culprits are soft drinks, fruit drinks (often sold in tetrapacks), and sports drinks, but it is also found in flavoured yogurts, frozen dinners / frozen food, canned food, breads, stuffing mixes, breakfast cereals, breakfast pancake/waffles, cookies/cakes, crackers, ice cream, children's vitamins, cough syrup, candy bars, condiments like ketchup etc., drink mixes, jams, jellies, syrups, some meats, salad dressings, sauces and marinades, and snack foods and bars.  For a list by brand, click here. Read labels carefully, or if this seems like too much trouble, simply stay away from ALL processed food by only consuming food that existed before the industrial revolution – food that comes from sources that one can pick, pull or chase after, and do not require a trip to a factory before being eaten.

Related Tips
Sugar – The disease generator
Artificial Sweeteners
Blood-sugar regulation
Insulin, our storage hormone

George A Bray How bad is fructose? American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 86, No. 4, 895-896, October 2007

Richard J Johnson Potential role of sugar (fructose) in the epidemic of hypertension, obesity and the metabolic syndrome, diabetes, kidney disease, and cardiovascular disease American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 86, No. 4, 899-906, October 2007

Aeberli I et al. Fructose intake is a predictor of LDL particle size in overweight schoolchildren. Am J Clin Nutr 2007;86:1174–8.

Emma Hitt, PhD Fructose but Not Glucose Consumption Linked to Atherogenic Lipid Profile
Medscape Medical News, July 2007.

Xiang Gao et al. Intake of Added Sugar and Sugar-Sweetened Drink and Serum Uric Acid Concentration in US Men and Women Hypertension. 2007;50:306-312

Michael S. Gersch Fructose, but not dextrose, accelerates the progression of chronic kidney disease Am J Physiol Renal Physiol 293: F1256-F1261, 2007

Ravi Dhingra, MD et al. Soft Drink Consumption and Risk of Developing Cardiometabolic Risk Factors and the Metabolic Syndrome in Middle-Aged Adults in the Community Circulation. 2007;116:480-488

Vartanian LR et al. Effects of soft drink consumption on nutrition and health: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Public Health 2007;97:667–75.

Nakagawa T et al. A causal role for uric acid in fructose-induced metabolic syndrome. Am J Physiol (Renal Physiol) 2006;290:F625–31.

Hella Jürgens et al. Consuming Fructose-sweetened Beverages Increases Body Adiposity in Mice Obesity Research 13:1146-1156 (2005)

Havel PJ. Dietary fructose: implications for dysregulation of energy homeostasis and lipid/carbohydrate metabolism. Nutr Rev 2005;63:133–57.

Bray GA et al. Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity. Am J Clin Nutr 2004;79:537–43.

Alison K. Ventura, MS et al. Risk Profiles for Metabolic Syndrome in a Nonclinical Sample of Adolescent Girls Pediatrics Vol. 118 No. 6 December 2006, pp. 2434-2442

Sharon S Elliott et al. Fructose, weight gain, and the insulin resistance syndrome
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 76, No. 5, 911-922, November 2002.

Liver Damage Caused by Refined Sugars Oct. 27, 2006.

Copyright 2007 Vreni Gurd

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  1. Sonia said,

    November 15, 2007 @ 9:59 pm

    Super, Vreni! I can’t agree more. Thanks for the information.

  2. Mariell said,

    February 5, 2008 @ 1:59 pm

    Hello Kate,

    Thanks for the info — I will avoid it whenever possible. However, some sites recommend using raw foods, which I cannot eat because they’ll make me sick, and some call for baking with whole grains — I cannot eat wheat, barley, or oats — I’m allergic to them. And, organic foods are ****expensive**** — I cannot afford to buy them on the little I earn per hour. Any ideas? I am using an alkalizer, pH-Basic from Enzymedica, and I see immediate, dramatic results! Perhaps I can write a book, listing all non-HFCS foods, and include my own journey in it, and see what happens!

  3. Thomass said,

    March 26, 2008 @ 12:13 am

    So if fructose is worse than glucose, doesn’t that mean that natural, unrefined fruit sugars can actually be worse for you in some cases? Kool-Aid, for example, is sucrose with vitamin C. If you’re not going to eat a real fruit (which has fibre etc.) then Kool-Aid would actually be better than fruit juice. You’ll notice the sugar content’s actually LOWER in kool-aid, because sucrose is sweeter so you don’t need/want as much of it.

    As for the products that do have high-fructose corn syrup, remember that moderation is the key. freaking out at seeing it on the label doesn’t help, it’s only an issue if it’s before ‘sugar’ on the ingredients, and if there’s more than just a coule of grams of it in the Nutrition Information. sugars aren’t poisons, they’re just nutrients we get too much of. if you get too many calories from carbs and fat, then eat more veggies and legumes. it’s much more effective than avoiding good foods just because they have small amounts of sugar added.

    if, as you said, “a far less expensive, far sweeter sweetener that actually extended shelf life could be made from corn” then this is actually better for the planet. if it extends shelf life, then less food will go to waste. if it’s sweeter, then you need less of it, meaning less calories. and if it’s made from corn, then there’s less shipping and exploitation of sugarcane farmers.

    please remember that processed, mass produced food is the only way to feed 6+ billion on this planet. if we were all hunter-gatherers, there’d be no animals left! reduce your meat, and remember the 80/20 rule. there’s usually a food that’s 80% as healthy for 20% of the costs. please care about the health of the world as much as your own health. cheers!

  4. bev said,

    April 27, 2008 @ 10:07 am

    Could anyone give me a directions to recipes and how to cook for a High fructose-sucrose intolerent child. I found a list of sugar types on Boston University’s HFI web page, excellent info, but now where do I buy ingredents, which one will work in baking (heat), where can I but condiments, and other items to make his life closer to normal. I can’t find a fructose free food list anywhere. I think it would be easier than a list of foods containg fructose and sucrose as i threw out food in masses just the other day.(I thought about a food pantry but can’t justify killing the poor and uneducated.) My god it’s in everything. I’m already dealing with the emotional damage from other children teasing him about incontenance due to eating the wrong foods. Who Knew! The first doctor was an idiot, it was 4 years with a Gastro specialist who just wanted more fiber in his diet to absorb the diarrhea, a fiber which had fructose in it I may add. We now have a new specialist, who manage run the correct tests in two weeks. I need to remove all HFC and sucrose, sorbitol from the house. Help me find replacements, and find information to learn and teach him to cook for himself. It’s a life skill he must have or die of liver failure. We already have issues from not correcting the diet sooner and giving him daily supplements with FRUCTOSE. I need help!

  5. Vreni said,

    April 27, 2008 @ 11:49 am

    Hi Bev,

    Wow, I can imagine you are feeling a sense of complete overwhelm, as you suddenly must change your life so dramatically. I think the transition will be much easier than you realize, if you think about food differently. If you stick to whole foods, you won’t have a problem. Only consume foods that existed before the industrial revolution – so no packaged or processed foods, and your HFCS problem will immediately go away. The food you eat should NOT come from a factory, but should be food you need to pick, pull out of the ground, chase after to obtain, or should come from the ocean. If the food that you are eating has more than 5 ingredients on the label, I would be suspicious. If you don’t know how to pronounce the ingredients, or you have no idea what they are, avoid the food. If the food comes with health claims (like boxed breakfast cereals, energy drinks etc.), stay away from them. A carrot does not have to advertise that it is healthy. Eat fresh vegetables, eggs, dairy, fresh fish and seafood, poultry, meat, legumes etc. – REAL food from living sources.

    Breakfast can be an omlette made with eggs, milk, cheese, spinach, tomatoes, asparagus – whatever veggies you want. Or you can by rolled oats (not the prepackaged sweet stuff), in the bulk section of your grocery store, soak the oats over night to speed up cooking time, and cook the next morning, and serve with cream, and possibly some raw honey to sweeten slightly.

    I would highly recommend the cookbook “Nourishing Traditions” by Sally Fallon – she gives lots of healthy recipes for condiments like ketchup etc. that are garbage in the store.

    The challenge may be reducing his sweet cravings, and for that I would suggest fish oils, and increasing good-quality proteins and fats, like butter, eggs, raw cheese (as long as he is not sensitive to dairy). He may also need probiotics to help his digestive system heal. Try not to feed him too much starch, as that will keep him craving sweets. Often you can substitute nori sheets or even large lettuce or cabbage leaves for what you would normally use bread for. Create wraps filled with carrots, cucumber, some meat and some cheese, but wrap with lettuce instead. Goat cheese can be yummy in these wraps.

    Anyway, good luck. I hope that helps.

  6. Mary said,

    July 7, 2008 @ 10:40 am


    since reading this article I have been cautiously avoiding HFCS. I recently found that a “healthy” cereal by Kashi contains inulin. I began researching this compound and was really confused. Some websites indicate it is HFCS and others insoluble fibre. In Ontario we have a government service where you can email a dietician and get a response.

    The dieticina says that inulin is not HFCS, but in the list above as alternative names for HFCS, inulin is the first. Am I getting poor information, or is it possibly a difference in naming practices?

    I pasted in the response I received below.
    Mary =O)

    The following answer has been prepared by a Registered Dietitian:

    “Inulin is not another term for high fructose corn syrup and these are two very different foods. Inulin is a soluble fibre and an oligosaccharide; while high fructose corn syrup is an artificially manufactured simple sugar or monosaccharide. Inulin is a healthy choice; high fructose corn syrup is not. Inulin is a non-digestible oligosaccharide (which means a short chain carbohydrate) that is found naturally in artichokes, asparagus, onions, leeks, garlic, etc. It is considered non-digestible because it ends up in the colon, instead of being digested in the small intestine. In the colon it feeds the growth of good bacteria, meaning it has a very positive effect on health. This effect is also referred to as a “prebiotic”. Many manufacturers are adding inulin to their products, to give them a pre-biotic quality and to increase the fibre content. All nutrients claimed on the nutrition facts table are legislated by the government to ensure that manufacturers measure and report them in the same way.

    High fructose corn syrup is manufactured by converting the starch from corn into fructose, a simple and easily digested sugar. It is a cheap way for food manufacturers to sweeten food and extend the shelf life. It is thought that increased prevalence in obesity and diabetes may be attributable to our high consumption of this cheap and simple sweetener. Therefore it is recommended that you limit the consumption of high fructose corn syrup. On labels, it may also be listed as glucose-fructose, since it contains both of these sugars.”

  7. Joanne said,

    November 17, 2008 @ 10:03 pm

    I have a question about agave syrup. Is it the same as agave nectar? I have been using raw blue agave nectar as a sweetener, assuming it came from the agave plant.

    I just spoke with someone who has a fructose allergy. She has to be so careful because even whole foods like romaine lettuce contain fructose.

  8. Joanne Little said,

    April 16, 2009 @ 12:19 pm

    I have a question, is Splenda better to use as a substitute for sugar?

  9. Vreni said,

    April 17, 2009 @ 12:00 am

    Hi Joanne,

    Splenda is a chemical that is linked to kidney issues. If you need to sweeten your food, I would suggest stevia as a no calorie substitute, or use raw honey, organic maple syrup, or blackstrap molasses.

    Hope that helps …

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