High Fructose Corn Syrup: A Sweet and Dangerous Lie

By Michael A. Smith, MD

If I'm to believe the TV commercial I just watched, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is totally safe to consume in moderate amounts. Of course, this is according to the Corn Refiners Association which paid big money for the ad.

Now I'm not all that cynical by nature, but since the Corn Refiners Association certainly seems to have a vested interest in protecting its product, I think it might be best for us to investigate the safety of HFCS for ourselves. Let's do it.

Nothing but the Facts about High Fructose Corn Syrup

High fructose corn syrup is produced when corn syrup goes through enzymatic processing to convert some of its glucose into fructose in order to make it taste sweeter. In the United States, consumer foods and products often use high fructose corn syrup as a sweetener.

It's become absurdly common in processed foods and beverages including breads, cereals, breakfast bars, energy bars, candies, lunch meats, dairy products, canned foods, and, well ... pretty much everything.

There are two common types of HFCS:

1. HFCS 42 — The more common of the two, this is a blend of 42% fructose and 53% glucose. The rest is water. It’s found in pre-packaged foods, canned foods and baked items.

2. HFCS 55 — This syrup is composed of 55% fructose and 42% glucose. The rest is water. HFCS 55 is used mostly in soda and flavored drinks.

Believe it or not, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) first exposed the dangers of HFCS. They actually released information showing a strong correlation between obesity and total fructose consumption, including HFCS. The data they put together showed a rise in obesity mirrored by the rise in total fructose, free fructose and HFCS consumption.1

The CDC is not saying that this is a cause-effect relationship. As we all know, there are many factors that contribute to obesity. However, they are citing HFCS as a contributor to obesity. So what else can be linked to HFCS consumption? Keep on reading to find out.

Processed Fructose Disrupts Fat Metabolism

Unlike glucose, processed fructose is readily converted to fat by the liver, leading to an excessive concentration of fats and lipoproteins in the body.2 High and prolonged ingestion of processed fructose increases unfavorable lipid profiles in the body — specifically a rise in blood triglycerides — and disrupts insulin sensitivity.3,4

A recent study of 48 adults showed that consumption of HFCS-sweetened beverages for 2 weeks at 25% of daily energy requirements increased risk factors for cardiovascular disease comparably with fructose and more than glucose in young adults.5

With changes in lipid profiles and an increased risk for heart disease, it seems pretty clear that fructose ingestion is a contributor to plaque buildup and narrowing of the blood vessels — a ticking time bomb for the development of both strokes and heart attacks.

Please note: fructose is a natural sugar found in fruit. But the amount of fructose in fruit is far less than in HFCS and has far less of an impact on lipid profiles.

More Health Consequences of High Fructose Corn Syrup

Let's keep this as simple as possible. Here's a straightforward list of additional health consequences that can be linked to HFCS (some based on animal models):

  • Insulin resistance6
  • Type 2 diabetes6
  • Metabolic syndrome7
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease8
  • Gout9

Practical Steps for Avoiding HFCS

Here at Life Extension®, we like to promote a practical, preventive approach to health. And let’s be honest — eliminating "corn sugar" entirely from your diet probably isn't very practical. In any case, the first thing you need to do is identify the foods that are loaded with HFCS. You should consider completely avoiding these products if possible:

  • Pre-packaged Baked Items
  • Pre-packaged Stuffing & Breads
  • Crackers & Related Snacks
  • Shake’n Bake Products
  • Fruit Punch
  • Juice Boxes
  • Specialty Coffee Drinks (Frappuccinos)
  • Energy Drinks
  • Soda
  • Canned fruits
  • Canned vegetables
  • Candies & Cookies
  • All Cereals (including healthy ones, see below)
  • Ketchup
  • Condiments
  • Lunch Meats
  • Processed Cheeses
  • Pickled vegetables
  • Jams & Jellies
Now, let's take a look at some of the so-called “healthy” foods. Surprise, surprise! Many of these low fat foods simply replace the fat with processed HFCS! Definitely avoid these foods as much as possible:

  • Low Fat Yogurt
  • Low Fat Salad Dressings
  • Low Fat Ice Cream Products
  • Heart Healthy Cereals
  • Low Calorie Snacks
  • Low Fat Peanut Butter

Nutritional Steps to Take — Protect Against AGEs

Since fructose promotes problems with insulin sensitivity and may disrupt normal sugar metabolism, it’s important to protect yourself against the formation of advanced glycation end-products (AGEs). These aging molecules are linked to many of the side effects of diabetes.10 The following supplements help to promote healthy sugar metabolism and may prevent the formation and buildup of AGEs. People who consume a lot of HFCS should definitely consider them:

1. Benfotiamine — a form of vitamin B1 that blocks three of the major pathways in which sugar causes damage.11 We suggest 100 to 400 mg/day.

2. Carnosine — a small protein that suppresses diabetes complications by preventing glycation. We suggest 1,000 mg/day.12,13

3. Pyridoxal 5’-phosphate — The latest information shows that pyridoxal 5’-phosphate may also be of significant help in preventing the formation of these aging molecules and diabetes. We suggest 100 mg/day.14

"Corn Sugar" — A Sweet Name for a False Sense of Safety

Remember, no matter how creative the Corn Refiners Association gets with its branding efforts, HFCS is not something that you should be eating regularly, if at all.

Despite what those bright and creative ads are trying to tell you, "corn sugar," a.k.a. high fructose corn syrup, is NOT the same as glucose or regular sugar. As a matter of fact, processed fructose is even worse for us that we previously thought.

No amount of clever branding is going to change that. Our advice? Be proactive about your health and avoid HFCS at all costs.

What do you think about HFCS infiltrating our food choices? Share your take in the comments below.

  1. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;79:537-543. PMID: 15051594
  2. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2005 Feb 21;2(1):5.
  3. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002 Nov;76(5):911-22.
  4. Front Biosci. 2003 Jan 1;8:d464-76.
  5. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2011 Oct;96(10):E1596-605.
  6. Clin Transl Sci. 2011 Aug;4(4):243-52.
  7. Curr Opin Gastroenterol. 2008 Mar;24(2):204-9.
  8. J Hepatol. 2008 Jun;48(6):993-9.
  9. Curr Opin Rheumatol. 2011 Mar;23(2):192-202.
  10. Diabetes Obes Metab. 2007 May;9(3):233-45.
  11. Altern Med Rev. 2006 Sep;11(3):238-42.
  12. Sci Aging Knowledge Environ. 2005 May 4;2005(18):pe12.
  13. FEBS Lett. 2007 Mar 6;581(5):1067-70.
  14. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2008 Apr;1126:288-90.


Brian Hassel said...

Couldn't agree more. Our unfounded fear of dietary fat has pushed us to these weird, frankenfoods where natural, healthy, satiating fats are replaced with sugar.

Now, if only LEF can start to take a hard look at other problematic carbohydrates -- namely all of them in large quantities. Much like HFCS, processed products are jammed full of wheat, corn, and soy 'fillers' because they are cheap and filling. As such, we eat far more easily digestible starches (sugar for all intents and purposes) than our bodies can handle. Blood sugar spikes, insulin resistance, (above mentioned) AGEs, pancreatic beta cell burn out, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease result.

Life Extension said...

Hey Brian, thanks for reading our post. Please share it with your friends. And you're absolutely right...sugar fillers are all over our food chain.

Randy Elliott said...

Great post! I can't believe the tv commercial the industry came out with of a man holding his little girl's hand while walking thru a corn field and talking about how safe corn & corn syrup is. Hopefully he'll be around to hold her hand when she's in the hospital from diabetes or something other HFCS outcome.

Life Extension said...

Randy, thanks for reading out post and commenting!

Anonymous said...

It seems harder and harder to avoid and I read labels. No wonder when we go on vacation and the cruise ships come in that say, "Here comes those Fat Americans". The FDA really needs FIRED. How come we can't get any truthful labels on our foods? How can 75% of the honey out there actually be HFCS and we don't even know about it. The labeling is TOO deceiving. It's worse than Wall Street. What's worse is I can't find anything healthy to drink besides water and coconut water (ONE) and my choices (though there are hundreds of crappy products) seem to have gotten slimmer with HFCS and gluten taken out of the mix.

Bob Greene said...

Thanks, Dr. Smith, for an updater on how fast the HFCS (corn syrup) industry has been working behind the scenes to dictate consumer food options.

Based on well-placed financial contributions, its strategy usually succeeds-- that is, lie to the public, and disparage critics (employ personal attacks, and reply to the criticism in any terms but fact and science).

In early 2009, after neurologist Sanjay Gupta had assailed HFCS as a leading cause of diabetes and heart disease, a few phone calls were made to Obama from ADM and Cargill, huge corporations brokering global grain sales. Dr. Gupta was withdrawn as candidate for US Surgeon General within days of the initial announcement.

Of course, that reveals HFCS is not only an epidemiological issue, but a political issue with lots of money behind it, and bears all the symptoms of widespread conflict of interest and outright corruption. Certain people want HFCS fed to the American people in every way possible, and consequences be damned, because this is about huge profits.

On cue, and in defense of the Usual Suspects, the GOP brings its mythology about regulation into play-- that regulation is to be avoided at all costs-- and plays the HFCS industry anthem. (

However, most major regulatory legislation regarding consumers, from pharmaceutical safety to airline safety-- has come after significant damage and consumer losses. That is, there is a trail of abundant evidence to support most regulation. So it is with HFCS.

Pointedly, only unscientific regulation is bad-- there is good regulation, as well. Once upon a time, before the FDA was owned by the pharmaceutical industry, JFK held a press conference to award FDA investigator Frances Moore Kelsey for protecting the public interest. Kelsey had reviewed and later denied a request from the American pharmaceutical industry to sell thalidomide in the US to pregnant women. Kelsey had acted correctly, after learning of early reports from Europe that thalidomide produced monstrous birth deformities. As it turned out, the early European reports of deformities were correct, and-- if anything-- under-reported. Kelsey's expert knowledge and attention to duty saved the nation tens of thousands of babies born with flippers for limbs.

Today, thanks to the prevailing, mindless GOP mantra about government regulation, the current void of proper, intelligent regulation from government continues to generate widespread and severe consumer damage as a direct consequence. Likewise, the Usual Suspects continue to send their campaign contributions faithfully to make sure nothing happens in congress.

Life Extension said...

Bob, thanks for your insight and input. We appreciate what you have to say and look forward to your comments on future posts. Thanks again.

Tom Furman said...

From an article by Alan Aragon-
"Myth- “High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is more fattening than regular sugar is.”
In a 1968 study, rats that were fed large amounts of fructose developed high levels of fat in their bloodstreams. Then, in 2002, University of California at Davis researchers published a well-publicized paper noting that Americans’ increasing consumption of fructose, including that in HFCS, paralleled our skyrocketing rates of obesity.
What science really shows:
Both HFCS and sucrose—better known as table sugar—contain similar amounts of fructose. For instance, the two most commonly used types of HFCS are HFCS-42 and HFCS-55, which are 42 and 55 percent fructose, respectively. Sucrose is almost chemically identical, containing 50 percent fructose. This is why the University of California at Davis scientists determined fructose intakes from both HFCS and sucrose. The truth is, there’s no evidence to show any differences in these two types of sugar. Both will cause weight gain when consumed in excess.
The bottom line:
HFCS and regular sugar are empty-calorie carbohydrates that should be consumed in limited amounts. How? By keeping soft drinks, sweetened fruit juices, and prepackaged desserts to a minimum"

Anonymous said...

And.... drum roll... the head of the FDA was formerly a lawyer for Monsanto. Yep, it's all about the $$$$ folks!

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