High Fructose Corn Syrup - Is It Public Enemy Number One?

Maik Wiedenbach
Written By: Maik Wiedenbach
May 17th, 2012
Updated: June 13th, 2020
Categories: Articles Nutrition
16.4K Reads
Is high fructose corn syrup really that bad? How does it stack up compared to honey and sucrose, and should it be avoided when trying to build muscle?

High fructose corn syrup

It seems that every couple years our society targets a new food, which is then blamed for every possible ailment and natural disasters alike. In the 1980s it was dietary fats. Then Dr. Atkins rolled around and carbs became evil.

Lately, trans fats have been pretty much outlawed, red meat will kill you after one bite and now high fructose corn syrup is under fire. So I figured let's take a look as to what it is and what it isn't and draw conclusions from there.

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a liquid fructose-glucose mix, which has been used as a sweetener in foods and soft drinks since the 1970s. High fructose corn syrup is more stable and cheaper than cane sugar.

It is not much different in terms of composition from sucrose (table sugar) or honey. Basically, its a 45/55% mix of fructose and glucose, two simple sugars. Again, like table sugar or honey (which, in all fairness, contains enzymes and vitamins that other sugars do not).

Here is a basic comparison of all 3 sweeteners:

  • High Fructose Corn Syrup: 42% Fructose, 53% Glucose
  • Sucrose: 50% Fructose, 50% Glucose
  • Honey: 49% Fructose, 43% Glucose

No earth shattering differences there. Yet, for some reason, high fructose corn syrup (in combination with the current government officials) is being blamed for all the issues that are plaguing the US, namely obesity, diabetes and the budget deficit. Ok, scratch the last one.

Where this comes from, I am somewhat uncertain. I am guessing that it started with the "fruit is evil" movement. While it is true that fructose, when consumed in large amounts, can cause gastric distress, it won't destroy your physique all at once.

In fact, fruit (the whole thing, not juice) in a diet is extremely helpful, since fructose is primarily stored in the liver and the fullness of the storage plays a role in regulating hunger. Liver glycogen management is also helpful in terms of post workout recovery, but that's not the point of this article.

Another erroneous belief regarding high fructose corn syrup is that it can't be properly metabolized in the body and turns into some evil component once in your system, which then will make all your muscles fall off. This is simply not true.

As mentioned before, large amounts of fructose can cause stomach issues but high fructose corn syrup contains less fructose than table sugar or honey. High fructose corn syrup is pretty much digested like table sugar and is equally sweet while containing the same amount of calories (4.1 per gram).

So what makes America obese? You might have guessed it: over-consumption. Daily calorie intake rose by 500 calories from 1980 till 2000, while activity levels dropped. Foods containing high fructose corn syrup (or any other sugar) are easily over consumed. 80 ounce soda anyone? That soda, however, would do the same damage to your body if cane sugar had been used.

In fact, due to regulation and an overall hysteria regarding high fructose corn syrup, less high fructose corn syrup is being used. Yet, America keeps getting fatter. It’s a classical example, where the baby is being thrown out with the bath water.

In a calorie-controlled environment, high fructose corn syrup will not do any damage to your diet. Yes, calories matter; they matter more than anything else when it comes to losing weight. High fructose corn syrup is not an evil substance in itself, it will not turn you into a cancer ridden diabetic just like eating goji berries won't make you Mr. Olympia either.

I think one concept, that has gotten lost is the one of personal responsibility. Nobody can beat the laws of thermodynamics. If you take in more calories than you use on a day to day basis, you'll gain weight. People tend to develop OCD-like behavior over small details such as pomegranate juice or acai berry for anti-oxidants usage while forgetting to keep a food log.

This is what is called the dieter's paradox: despite rising diet consciousness and more and more healthy food choices being available, America keeps getting fatter. How’s that possible? Because most dieters do not equate healthy or "organic" foods with calories and simply eat too much of them.

First and foremost, you must create a caloric deficit if you want to lose weight. Sounds redundant but in 90% of all cases I have witnessed, it isn’t done. Instead, the diet is switched to so-called "healthy foods", which are "good for you."

Guess what? If your basic metabolic rate is 2000 calories and you are consuming 3000 calories worth of precious organic food, you'll gain weight. If you eat 1500 calories worth of gummy bears, you'll lose weight (coming soon: the gummy bear diet).

Now please note, I did not say that you should eat only gummy bears to get into Shredded Town, but you need to cut calories. Simply cutting out some supposedly evil food won't do it.

All this obsessing over tiny details and joining the frenzy du jour probably causes a greater release of cortisol and thereby more harm than high fructose corn syrup ever could. So, relax, eat your chicken and do your squats.

Don Willey
Posted on: Tue, 06/28/2022 - 07:32

So are you saying that, "Sugar: The Bitter Truth"- which actually details the mechanisms of how HFCS is metabolized like alcohol in the body is wrong? Please tell me what part is wrong.

Posted on: Mon, 06/27/2022 - 14:43

I was 15 when the Quarter Pounder first came out. It was huge, almost no one else had a burger that size. Adult-size people used to get filled up on a regular 1/8 pound burger a small fries and a small coke. Why are people so fat? Maybe because they are now eating 4,800 calories a day.

Brian Kearnaghan
Posted on: Mon, 06/27/2022 - 08:58

I don't believe this article with regards to people eating more and exercising less. My city has a Planet Fitness and a Vasa (two huge health clubs) and they are packed all the time. When I first moved here in 1991, we had an old outdated YMCA and a small gym that not too many people went to. When I was in high school, each grade had one or two overweight students, now it's about 1/3 of the students. It may not be HFCS, but something is making people way heavier.

Posted on: Wed, 02/25/2015 - 11:51

No true research was done for this article. Dr. Doug McGuff gives a presentation at Convention 21 where he explains how HFCS actually by-passes the insulin gate on cells as they are processing sugars and nutients the body needs to fuel itself. Natural sugars are held at bay by the insulin locks on each cell until the cell is ready for the next batch of sugar to process. HFCS has the unnatural ability to absorb straight through the cell walls into the cell (like coming in without permission). It totally by-passes the insulin lock. This overloads the cell, so it passes the HFCS straight into the fat cells to store the overload. This is just one reason to avoid HFCS. As Alex says, this is a GMO ...not natural to our bodies...more than obesity is at risk here.

Maik Wiedenbach
Posted on: Thu, 10/22/2015 - 15:21

pls elaborate how glucose will not cause an insulin spike... HFCG has the same structure as honey, so I would love to hear your reasoning on that one. As for GMOs causing cancer, pls show me one study that proves without a doubt that a group of people who ate GMO foods got cancer, whereas the control group did not. You do realize that GMO has been done for centuries and has feed billions?

Posted on: Tue, 02/05/2013 - 19:51

Don't forget that HFCS is a genetically-modified food. The only reason genetically-modified foods are legal in the U.S. (banned in Canada, Europe, and most other places in the world) is because of the corruption existing in the F.D.A. International experiments have shown that GMOs cause cancers and actually cause infertility in mice.

This article ignores the complete reason people are so worried about HFCS.

Maik Wiedenbach
Posted on: Thu, 10/22/2015 - 15:23

Please post one of those "international experiments" as a double blind study, just one will do.

Posted on: Sun, 01/27/2013 - 19:58

Refined table sugars and HFCS are dangerous because they're so addicting. Cheap, addictive sugars are how the food and drink industry makes their billions of dollars. Blaming America's fat problem on over consumption of healthy "organic" foods is the dumbest thing I've ever heard. Any artificial, fast food, "fat-free", refined, "food-like products" are the problem!!!! Eat your chicken, red meat, but EAT YOUR VEGETABLES TOO!

Ella B
Posted on: Thu, 08/09/2012 - 16:28

That's not the point. Of course sugar is sugar, whether it HFCS or cane sugar.
The problem is that in the process of purification of HFCS a certain amount of mercury are being
Used and traces of that mercury remain in HFCS that we consume...
That's all...so if you want your sugar with some mercury in it, by all means...