High fructose hype

HFCS is the number one source of calories in the U.S., with soda being the main culprit.

by Stacy Maxwell — 

You may have seen the latest commercials touting the goodness of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). One ad shows two moms at a children’s birthday party — one pours a juice-like beverage and offers it to the other, who declines because it contains high fructose corn syrup. The mom serving the beverage tells her that HFCS is made from corn and, just like sugar, is fine in moderation.

This ad campaign, paid for by the Corn Refiners Association, is a response to growing negative public perception of HFCS and the subsequent decline in consumption over the last few years. The goal of these ads is to convince consumers that HFCS is exactly like sugar — which it most emphatically is not. Don’t believe the hype!

This is nothing more than deceptive advertising by an industry whose profits are slipping because increasing numbers of consumers are choosing healthy foods over industrial consumables. This would seem like a good thing, unless your bottom line depends on selling, literally, tons of HFCS. Consumption of HFCS in the United States was estimated at approximately 40 pounds per person annually according to 2007 USDA figures (down from 45 pounds in 1999), which is still an outrageous amount.

Even more shocking is the fact that HFCS is the number one source of calories in the U.S., with soda being the main culprit. The sweetener is also found in a wide variety of packaged foods and baked goods. This means consumers must read labels to know what they are eating.

Sure, HFCS has the same number of calories and sweetness as sugar, but what the Corn Refiners Association does not want you to know is that the body processes these two sweeteners quite differently. Sugar, a simple carbohydrate, is metabolized into glucose, which is the first energy store used by the body.

Of course, we should obtain our carbohydrates from whole-food sources, not sugar-laden foods; this simply illustrates the difference between the two caloric sweeteners. HFCS is metabolized rapidly into body fat, which is the last store of energy that the body uses, resulting in excess body fat.

Additionally, HFCS has a negative impact on triglyceride levels and LDL (bad cholesterol). Research has shown that the effects of HFCS have significantly contributed to the increase in heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and other chronic illnesses over the last few decades.

Avoiding products with HFCS is still the safest and most healthful option. Eliminating the most obvious culprits, such as soda and sports drinks, is the first step in reducing our intake of HFCS. However, reading labels is necessary, as this industrial sweetener is in everything, from bread to soup to Worcestershire sauce.


Stacy Maxwell is a certified lifestyle educator and a nutrition and wellness coach at Acupuncture & Integrative Medicine Center in downtown Phoenix., 602-265-1774 or

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 27, Number , December 2008/January 2009.

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