Corn Syrup and Fructose...

So what’s the big deal about high-fructose corn syrup?

Actually, though, my first question would be, why are some corn syrups high-fructose to begin with?

Fructose is the natural sugar found in fruits. It’s name, in fact, derives from the Latin Fructus meaning “fruit”. It seems to me to be a good thing, ironically. So what’s the big deal?

But back to my two questions: (1) why are some corn syrups (esp. those in pop) advertised as “high-fructose” and (2) what’s the big deal all of a sudden about that fact?

Thank you in advance to all who reply.


HFCS is cheaper than cane or beet sugar. Hence it made the manufacture of junk food cheaper. Hence people are buying more junk food.

And the organic-purist crowd glommed onto “Ewww. Chemicals are icky and will kill you. This is all a big plot by Monsanto and agri-business! Buy real sugar!”

The Straight Dope: Is the increased use of high-fructose corn syrup responsible for the rise in obesity?

And some studies have shown that pure fructose sweeteners can cause excess fat retention. And the name High Fructose Corn Syrup makes it sound like it’s pure fructose, so once again the public impression becomes “regular sugar is a health food!”

I recall back in the 70s that fructose was being claimed as better than regular sugar. You could buy pure fructose in the health food stores. Here’s a couple of articles from the time period.

Kiplinger’s Personal Finance about Fructose, circa 1981

New York Magazine, 1979:

HFCS hysteria is ridiculous for many reasons, not least of which the “healthier” alternative (sucrose) consists of one glucose and one fructose molecule bonded together. Replacing HFCS with “natural” cane or beet sugar makes no practical change to the amount of fructose ingested. Sucrose is also readily converted to free glucose and fructose by acids and heat. Invert syrup, common in baking, is readily made at home by heating table sugar in water, and stomach acid rapidly converts sucrose to free glucose and fructose. There’s no reason to support fructose being “bad” if ingested in the form of HFCS but “ok” if ingested in the form of sucrose. Interestingly, HFCS and invert syrup are commonly considered sweeter than sucrose, so for a desired sweetness level using HFCS might result in less total sugar consumed.

I’m not sure when you say the “big deal all of a sudden”. If anything, this has really died off in the last few years. This was an “all of a sudden” about 15 years ago.

There is a great Skeptoid article on this topic:

Regarding your Q2 first:
The Sketpoid article is slightly more recent and supports what Cecil alludes to in that there is still no evidence that HFCS is any “worse” for you than regular sugar.

The initial link was driven by correlational data on increases in obesity with increased use of HFSC in processed food. However, that correlation also coincided with a general increase in overall calorie consumption (portion size and soft drink consumption increased dramatically during the 70s and 80s) as well reduced physical activity. The supposed “chemical” and “physiological” reasons hypothesized have never been shown.

As others have noted - HFCS is used in processed food primarily for one reason: it’s cheaper in the USA than cane sugar or beet sugar. This is also one of the reasons the “controversy” was sustained - other countries’ exports of cane & beet sugar were impacted by US producers switching to USA-made HFCS. Those countries kept using cane & beet based sweeteners and then pointed to obesity in the USA and pushed the false HFSC = bad for you connection, hoping to get some business back.

I think this is kept going because once a belief gets ingrained in public consciousness, it’s very hard to shake loose. Just peruse some of the Skeptoid topics or google “commonly held misconceptions” for ample evidence of this.

Regarding your Q1: Skeptoid gives a good answer to the chemical basis of fructose. glucose and HFCS:

And the folks who rail against HFCS often laud honey as a sweetener, instead, because it’s “all-natural”. Except that, chemically speaking, honey is basically just impure HFCS.

One difference is the way fructose is metabolized. All fructose metabolism takes place in the liver where it is is used for replenishment of liver glycogen and triglyceride synthesis. Dietary glucose can be used by every cell in the body. The liver effects of large amounts of fructose can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Here’s some ridiculous hysteria from Harvard Health Publishing.

Now granted, sucrose is 50% fructose, but it’s mostly the dose that makes the poison; I don’t eat either sucrose or fructose, but forced to do so I’d choose sucrose.

That is to say, HFCS costs more to produce, but is taxed less.

Which is why the alternative to HFCS is offshoring production.

One thing to remember is that high-fructose corn syrup is high in fructose – compared to regular corn syrup. Regular corn syrup is nearly 100% glucose. HFCS converts enough glucose to bring the fructose level up closer to the 50% that sucrose naturally has.

The problem is, it is hidden in things people don’t think are sweet. It’s hard to avoid if you don’t read labels. Salad dressing can be loaded with HFCS, especially “low-fat” dressing. It creates the viscosity of oil without the fat, then they mask the sweetness with added salt. Sure, fructose is just sugar, but if you are trying to cut back, it is difficult when the stuff is in everything.

Fear Itself nailed it. The biggest problem is that it’s in practically everything, and not just the things you’d expect or that you’d consider sweet. It’s no worse than any other sugar, but like all sugar, it is high in calories. By adding it to everything, we are consuming a lot of extra calories. And the more sugar you eat, the less sweet everything tastes, so the more sugar you need to enjoy sweet foods. I avoid sugar almost entirely. It’s amazing how sweet a baked carrot tastes once you stop eating foods with added sugar.

“I recall back in the 70s that fructose was being claimed as better than regular sugar. You could buy pure fructose in the health food stores”–Zyada (sorry, my quote function is not working)

OMG. In the late 90s my stepmother had two poor rawboned anxious and hyper kids, grade school aged, and I always felt so bad for them. She was obsessed with not feeding them any fat, or normal carbs and sugar, so they basically lived off of skim milk, Buddig cheap deli meat, zucchini, and these cookies made with “fruitose” (“fructose” but I could never get her to either say it properly or acknowledge that it was just concentrated sugar from apple juice…it was medicine for (her ostensibly) ADD kids as far as she was concerned). Now I see where she might have gotten stuck on the fruit sugar thing. I lived with her and my dad for a while, and went crazy living off of watery margarine, broccoli, and that stupid Buddig meat. My mom would send me Muesli cereal boxes to sustain myself, and once I got punished for two weeks for sneaking that horrid junk food into their house. XD Freaking Muesli was considered junk food. My dad and his wife had a serious familial eating disorder.

You hit the nail on the head there. I avoid all sugar like it was the plague and that means I basically have to avoid all foods that have ingredient labels. It’s in everything, and under 56 different names. Who the hell decided we need high fructose corn syrup in blue cheese salad dressing? Why does that need sweetening?

It doesn’t, but since it’s food, it is necessarily comprised of three components: fat, carbs, and/or protein. Since there’s very little protein in blue cheese dressing, that means the vast majority of the dressing can only be comprised of either fat or carbs (sugar).

So, if it doesn’t need “sweetening” then it does necessarily need “fattening” - it’s either that, watering it down, or decreasing the serving size, but it has to be made out of something.

It’s not necessarily just the sweetening. It helps with shelf stability, so it ends up in lots of things just to extend their shelf life. It also helps fill out ‘body’ in things like dressing, giving it a better mouth feel.

The flipside is that means we’re consuming way more sugar than we should without realizing it.

Fructose is the sweeter half of sucrose, so increasing its concentration would increase sweetness. The idea being, I guess, that people like sweet things, so if we make them sweeter, they will like them more.

It was hailed as a good thing because it is the fruit sugar, and fruit is good for you, so it must be the good sugar. Of course, if you take out the sugar and throw away the fiber, much of the benefit of eating fruit is lost.

Sucrose enters the liver and gets split into its monosaccharides. The glucose then passes through, but the fructose has to be catabolized further. I am not sure if this adds a significant workload to the liver (would it be especially bad for alcoholics?), but it would obviously be a little more with HFCS than with typical sugar.

I saw some bottles of agave nectar in the store, packaged like honey, and it appears to be the same kind of 55/45 balance as HFCS, only, naturally.

Well, yeah, but it wants to be made out of fat. It’s salad dressing. Mine is pretty much 50:50 full fat sour cream and full fat mayonnaise plus the blue cheese and some other seasonings. No sugar needed.

Sorry for the double post but the editing time ran out.

What I meant to say was; I make it better and cheaper at home.