High Fructose Corn Syrup: Bad Rap

02.28.2012 / Blog Posts Health and Wellness

Our sweet theme continues this week with a very controversial topic; High Fructose Corn Syrup. We welcome back Christine Turpin RD, LDN, CSCS as a guest blogger to give us the scoop on this category of sugars. To read about Christine background, click here.

- Jane Jakubczak, MPH, RD, CSSD, LDN; Redskins Dietitian

As promised from last week’s Sugar Alcohol discussion this week’s read is a continued discussion of sweet stuff. Chances are you have said it, heard it or read about it – High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). If you have said it, you may have noticed heads whip around and eyeballs bug out like you said a “bad word”. It’s no wonder the corn refineries asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to change their name to “corn sugar” (read more).

Think about all the ways you receive messages about food products: the media, social networks, food industry, publications, etc. There are many misconceptions about HFCS which can drive the confused consumer to pull out their hair in selecting the healthiest products. As a dietitian, I feel it’s my duty to educate the consumers about the health benefits, foods functions and their effects regardless of their past and present names.

HFCS is a sweetener derived from corn, has the same amount of calories (4 calories per gram) as sucrose (table sugar) and is commonly used in beverages and processed foods such as breads, cereals, crackers, cookies, cakes and condiments. HFCS and table sugar contain roughly the same amount of fructose and glucose (~50%) and the body breaks down and absorbs table sugar and HFCS in the same identical manner.

Since the 1970’s the use of HFCS in food products has increased as much as 4,000 % from 1970 to 2000. This has largely been due to the cheaper production costs of HFCS versus table sugar. HFCS functions as a sweetener and enhances flavor, color and stability.

Consequently, the waistlines of the American population have increased relative to HFCS consumption. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, about one-third of U.S. adults (33.8%) are obese and approximately 17% (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2—19 years are obese (read more). However, it’s difficult to identify one component that contributes to our obesity problem.

The jury is still out and more research needs to take place to prove HFCS is the culprit for the obesity epidemic. Currently, there is no scientific basis which links HFCS to obesity. Instead of giving HFCS a bad rap, a few factors need to be considered as offenders as well:

• The increased production and usage in technology (computers, phones) = sedentary lifestyle
• Americans consume more calories than they expended = weight gain (sedentary lifestyle)
• The increased consumption of high sugar and low nutrient dense foods (sweetened soda and drinks) = weight gain

The American Heart Association has specific guidelines for added sugar — no more than 100 calories a day from added sugar for most women and no more than 150 calories a day for most men. That's about 6 teaspoons of added sugar for women and 9 for men (read more at

In the meantime, be a smart consumer and read the food labels to find which “added” sugars are in your frequent foods (read more at

“Added” sugars include:
• anhydrous dextrose
• brown sugar
• confectioner's powdered sugar
• corn syrup
• corn syrup solids
• dextrose
• fructose
• high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
• honey
• invert sugar
• lactose
• malt syrup
• maltose
• maple syrup
• molasses
• nectars (e.g., peach nectar, pear nectar)
• pancake syrup
• raw sugar
• sucrose
• sugar
• white granulated sugar

Overall, sugars in foods and beverages can be enjoyed in moderation as part of a balanced diet and active lifestyle. Remember fruits, vegetables, milks and some grains have their own natural sugars. Your best bet is to eat fewer sweets, limit processed foods, snack on fruits and vegetables, consume whole grains and enjoy low fat dairy such as low fat milk and cheese. Equally important to the consumer is to get up, get your body in motion and go play! Go on…

Healthy Eating,

Christine Turpin, RD, LDN, CSCS

Have questions about HFCS, leave them below!

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