High Fructose Corn Syrup Vs. Pure Sugar – Is One Worse Than The Other?


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Last week I asked readers to submit any questions that they may have, and I got a good one from Vik. Vik asked “Is “high fructose corn syrup” worse (in whatever way) than sugar?“. Great question and one that I am sure many people have asked themselves!

From what I understand, high fructose corn syrup is a bunch of corn syrups that have undergone a process to increase their fructose content, thus making them sweeter. The reason you see it in everything from soda to cookies to energy bars is that real sugar can be expensive and it is much cheaper to use HFCS as a substitute. Plus it has a longer shelf life than sugar, making it even more attractive to food manufacturers.

Pic from The Economist

In soda, it has been found that by using HFCS instead of pure sugar it can make the soda 10 times richer in harmful carbonyl compounds. According to one study, carbonyl compounds are elevated in people with diabetes and are blamed for causing diabetic complications such as foot ulcers and eye and nerve damage. Another study concluded that foods with increased fructose “produced significantly higher fasting plasma triacylglycerol values than did the glucose diet in men” and “if plasma triacylglycerols are a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, then diets high in fructose may be undesirable”. Sounds good, right?

However, it’s not that sugar is good for us and HFCS is not. Both can be very damaging to our bodies, causing obesity, liver damage, heart disease, etc.. Pure sugar just happens to be a truly natural substance that has not been mixed in vats, chemically derived and played with, and used as cheap substitute in almost everything on the grocery store shelves. Everyone should limit the amount of sugar they ingest. But according to an article in SF Gate, “The body processes the fructose in high fructose corn syrup differently than it does old-fashioned cane or beet sugar, which in turn alters the way metabolic-regulating hormones function. It also forces the liver to kick more fat out into the bloodstream.” So, I guess HFCS is seen as much worse by a lot of nutritionists, but either way you look at it, ingesting as many empty calories as we all do from sugar is not good for anyone. Personally I try to stay away from the stuff. Sure, I do have the occasional Coke or whatever, but I do look at the labels of food before buying it and try to get stuff that does not have HFCS in it. It’s hard, but it can be done.

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  1. hmm… and part of the reason that corn is so much cheaper is the Farm Bill’s commodity subsidies which promote increased production, right? It all comes back to the farm bill.

    This is a very informative post, btw — thanks for writing it!

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