Is High Fructose Corn Syrup Bad for Me?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

Despite recent efforts by the corn industry to rehabilitate its image, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) remains a controversial product with questionable effects on health. Several studies have suggested a link between its consumption and the onset of diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and obesity. In addition, experiments with mice have demonstrated that a diet rich in fructose and low in copper can trigger serious liver damage in the test subjects.

High fructose corn syrup.
High fructose corn syrup.

High fructose corn syrup is made from a natural ingredient, cornstarch, but the process which converts it into the finished product is decidedly not natural. Three different chemical processes are necessary in order to first convert the cornstarch into a fructose/glucose blend and then to artificially change the ratio of fructose and glucose. Between the two forms of sugar, fructose, especially when atomically unbound from glucose, is considered to be the more hazardous to overall health. Finished high fructose corn syrup is 55% fructose, 45% glucose.

High fructose corn syrup.
High fructose corn syrup.

The problem with fructose is that unlike glucose or sucrose, it proceeds directly to the liver during the digestive process. The liver converts excess fructose into fat for storage, completely bypassing the normal insulin response from the pancreas which would ordinarily help control blood sugar levels. The result is an increased level of fructose sugar, converted to fat by the liver, but no corresponding feeling of fullness triggered by a sensitivity to insulin. Regular sugar or sucrose may contain more calories than HFCS, but its effect on blood sugar levels is more manageable.

The corn industry wants to change corn syrup's image.
The corn industry wants to change corn syrup's image.

This is not to suggest that all fructose is unhealthy. Indeed, many fruits contain a natural form of fructose which the body can assimilate. These fruits also contain fiber and other healthy nutrients, an argument which cannot be made for high fructose corn syrup. In fact, some studies suggest that the chemical composition of HFCS causes it to leech vital minerals out of body tissue in order to stabilize itself atomically.

The corn industry has powerful lobbyists to push its agenda with elected officials.
The corn industry has powerful lobbyists to push its agenda with elected officials.

The very existence of high fructose corn syrup as an alternative to natural sucrose or sugar is controversial in its own right. Many consumer products sold in the United States and other countries before the 1980s used sucrose or natural sugar as a sweetener. Government tariffs on imported sugar during the 1980s gave domestic corn growers the opportunity to tout the new corn-based sweetener. It was cheaper to produce than sucrose sugar, and was not subject to high import taxes. Thus, many manufacturers made the switch in order to save money.

Eventually food manufacturers began adding high fructose corn syrup to products which didn't even have a need for sweeteners. Because the syrup made products more stable on store shelves and American consumers demonstrated a preference for sweetened products, manufacturers have been using it in everything from ketchup to "natural" fruit juices which already contained fructose and glucose. It has become nearly impossible to avoid consuming some form of it when using commercially developed food products today.

Although there are commercial food products available which use sucrose or other natural sweeteners, the high import taxes on sugar still exist and the corn industry has powerful lobbyists which encourage lawmakers to continue their support for domestically grown corn products. HFCS is considered by some to be a hazardous, unnatural product which has the potential to harm consumers through higher incidents of obesity, diabetes and liver disease.

Many soft drinks are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup.
Many soft drinks are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


I had my first gout attack about 10 years ago. At the beginning I was having attacks every six months. Then gradually, I was getting them every three months, then every month and eventually every week.

It started at my big toe and then it was moving sometimes in my knees, and generally all around my joints and in my feet. And the pain was agonizing.

I have tried all the cures you can imagine. I tried ACV, lemons, drinking a lot of water, but to no avail. I tried water fasting, juice fasting,baking soda, again without success. I almost gave up meat, limiting it to only once a week, and I gave up alcohol completely. Again, no success.

I was living on vegetables, lots and lots of fresh fruit, milk, cheese beans and so on. My eating habits could not be healthier, or so I thought. But my gout was worsening. Then, I decided to increase the amount of fruit I was consuming, thinking that if some fruit is healthy, more fruit will be more healthy. Some days I was eating fruit only, others over 10 portions a day.

And alas, my gout, instead of improving, became chronic. It was there all the time. I was desperate. I did not know what to do. Then one day, accidentally, I read an article about fructose, which is foud in fruit in large quantities. It said that fructose increases uric acid in a matter of minutes. Fructose is also present in table sugar, and in HFCS, which is used in soft drinks.

I put two and two together and realized what I was doing wrong. I stopped eating fruit and all other sugars for a period of three weeks, and as if by magic, I saw a dramatic improvement. The pain was gone, the swelling was gone and I was fine.

I re-introduced fruit again in my diet but reducing them to one or two a day, and my gout completely disappeared. I do eat more meat now, and occasionally have an alcoholic drink, and thank God everything seems to be fine. Fructose was my enemy. --Tony


Thank you for this well written and easy to understand explanation of hfcs.

My wife and have made a great attempt at not eating hfcs and have noticed how much better food without hfcs tastes. I have noticed that preserves and jams are not sticky like hfcs jellies.

There is no way hfcs could not be hazardous. It tricks you into eating more and isn't that the goal of the corporations. I thought, as you mentioned, that hfcs was put in so many products to make them last longer on the shelf. The other thing I noticed is that once opened foods with hfcs go bad faster.


I have two sons who are high fructose intolerant. It attacks the abdomen and gives them bowel spasms with discomfort for hours after they eat. The doctor would not tell me this is the problem.

I spoke to the nurse and told her that every time my boys eat certain foods they grab their abdomens. She had me do an elimination test of foods. At age six they were diagnosed as being allergic to HFCS. Now they are 15 and it is called an intolerance because it is over seven years, which is all allergies last. Hope this is helpful to whoever reads it.


Probably in small doses in might not be bad. The problem is that corn syrup is used so widely that makes it into a health issue.

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