Nutrition Articles

The Truth About High Fructose Corn Syrup

Sweet Surprise or Health Demise?

Spark Action: What This Means for You
For years, SparkPeople's position (and my position as a registered dietitian) has always been that we are eating too much of the sweet stuff, no matter what the source. When it's added to your morning coffee, hidden in your can of soda, or baked into your chocolate brownie, sweetened foods are everywhere. The typical American over the age of two consumes more than 300 calories daily from sugar and other caloric sweeteners (including HFCS). That's 19 teaspoons of sweetener (75 grams) a day! One-sixth of our calorie intake is coming from a food ingredient that provides absolutely no nutritional benefit! This is definitely affecting our weight and overall health. It is time to take charge and cut back! The most recent recommendations suggest:
  • Healthy adults who consume approximately 2,000 calories daily should limit the amount of all caloric sweeteners to no more than 32 grams (8 teaspoons) of sugar daily.
  • For SparkPeople members who are consuming approximately 1,200-1,500 calories daily, this would equate to about 19-24 grams (5-6 teaspoons) of sugar each day.
Please note that doesn't only apply to sugar that you to your morning coffee or oatmeal; it applies to all "hidden" sugars, too, which are found in other processed foods and drinks that you may purchase.

To help curb the sugar monster so you can keep your weight and health in check, follow these tips.
  • Always read the ingredients list. Foods you might not even realize are sweetened (like bread, dried fruit and crackers) might be hiding added sugars. Learn to identify terms that mean added sugars on the ingredients list, including sugar, white sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar, confectioner’s sugar, corn syrup, crystallized fructose, dextrin, honey, invert sugar, maple syrup, raw sugar, beet sugar, cane sugar, corn sweeteners, evaporated cane juice, glucose-fructose, granulated fructose, high fructose corn syrup, fructose, malt, molasses, and turbinado sugar. Try to limit foods that have any of these “sugars” as one of the first three ingredients.
  • If you take your coffee with sugar, try adding a small piece of cinnamon stick or vanilla bean to your cup. It adds flavor without adding caloric sweeteners.
  • When baking, reduce the amount of sugar in the recipe. Most of the time you can reduce the sugar by up to one-third without noticing a difference in the taste or texture of the final product. Now that's sweet!
  • Sweeten other food items with vanilla extract or other "sweet" spices instead of caloric sweeteners. Many times cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice can naturally sweeten a recipe.
  • Substitute homemade fruit purees for sugar and syrups in recipes. Applesauce (look for varieties made without added sugar) can be substituted for some of the sugar in muffins, breads and baked desserts.
  • Top your breakfast waffles or pancakes with fresh fruit compote instead of syrup.
  • Limit the amount of regular soda and caloric-sweetened beverages. While artificially sweetened "diet" beverages aren't exactly health foods, they are one way to cut calories. The healthiest choice is always water. To add a splash of flavor to your water, add lemon or lime juice, other types of 100% fruit juice, or pieces of frozen fruit.
  • Skip the calorie-sweetened yogurts that use sugar, honey, syrup, fruit juice, fruit juice concentrate, sugar and HFCS. Buy plain, natural yogurt and sweeten it yourself with fresh fruit, frozen fruit or fruit canned in its own juice.
  • Select breakfast cereals with 5 grams of sugar or fewer per serving. Add sweetness with fresh, frozen, or fruit canned in its own juice. Try sliced bananas, canned peaches, frozen blueberries, or fresh strawberries.
  • If you're a juice drinker, buy 100% fruit juices and limit it to 1 cup daily for adults and ½ cup daily for children. Beware of juice "drinks," fruit punches, and juice cocktails; these contain only a small amount of juice and the rest is water and added caloric sweeteners.
Selected Sources:
American Dietetic Association. Use of nutritive and nonnutritive sweeteners. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2004. 104:255-275.

American Medical Association. Report 3 of the Council on Science and Public Health. The health effects of high fructose syrup. July 23, 2009.

American Medical Association. AMA finds high fructose syrup unlikely to be more harmful to health than other calorie sweeteners. American Medical Association Press Release. June 19, 2008.

Forshee RA, Storey ML, Allison DB, Glinsmann WH, Hein GL, Lineback DR, Miller SA, Nicklas TA, Weaver GA, White JS. 2007. A critical examination of the evidence relating high fructose corn syrup and weight gain. Critical Review Food Science Nutrition. 47(6):561-82.

Melanson KJ, Angelopoulos TJ, Nguyen V, Zukley L, Lowndes J, Rippe JM. Dec. 2008. High-fructose corn syrup, energy intake, and appetite regulation. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 88(6):1738S-1744S.

Soenen S, Westerterp-Plantenga MS. Dec. 2007. No differences in satiety or energy intake after high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, or milk preloads. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 86(6):1586-94.

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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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