Nutrition Articles

The Truth About High Fructose Corn Syrup

Sweet Surprise or Health Demise?

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But Is It Natural?
High fructose corn syrup has received a lot of blame and bad press lately. Recent marketing campaigns funded by the Corn Refiners Association have tried to improve the reputation of high fructose corn syrup, calling it "natural" among other things. However, it's important to note that the word “natural” doesn't mean much. This common food-labeling term is NOT regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Let’s face it: Neither table sugar nor HFCS would exist without human interaction and processing. You cannot just go to a field and squeeze corn syrup out of corn or sugar out of sugar beets or sugarcane. "Natural" or not, too much sweet stuff can't be good for you—even if it comes from what you might think of as natural sweeteners like honey, agave syrup (which is also highly refined and actually higher in fructose than HFCS) or raw sugar.

What about Fructose?
Much of the research cited to demonize HFCS is done specifically on fructose. But as we've already learned, fructose is just one component of HFCS, and it is found in table sugar and other sweeteners, too. Fructose also occurs naturally in fresh, whole fruits. So when a study comes out saying that increased "fructose" consumption leads to health problems, weight gain, cancer or other problems, that doesn't mean that those findings can be applied specifically to HFCS—or to any other fructose-containing food or sweetener. Put simply, what happens in a lab or in animal tests cannot be applied to humans, and definitely doesn't imply you'd have the same outcome (weight gain, cancer, etc.) by consuming other foods or sweeteners of which fructose is a component.

There is some emerging research showing that high intakes of fructose can lead to a host of health problems. But who consumes that much pure fructose—and all by itself? Does this mean we should avoid fruit? Honey? All things that contain any amount of fructose? Clearly more research needs to be done in this area, but the bottom line remains: We should all be eating fewer sweets, regardless of the source of sweetness.

It's important that we be wise consumers of health information and read studies like this critically, asking important questions, and making sure not to apply a small lab study to other real-world scenarios that might not fit. For more information on being a savvy reader of nutrition research, click here .
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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

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