NutriFocus Q&A: Truth About High Fructose Corn Syrup

Due to the recent hype and confusion about high fructose corn syrup, I’ve had a couple of questions form a client that I will be answering in today’s NutriFocus Q&A!

What is High Fructose Corn Syrup?

High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is sometimes referred to as corn sugar.  It is a popular ingredient in sodas and fruit-flavored drinks and is the most common added sweetener in processed foods and beverages.

Although high-fructose corn syrup is similar to table sugar (sucrose) in terms of its chemical structure, concerns have been raised because of HFCS is processed with the body.

HFCS is comprised of approximately 55% fructose. The fructose in HFCS is is unbound to any other molecule, unlike fructose in nature that is bound to glucose.  When HFCS is consumed, the unbound fructose is immediately taken up by the liver for metabolizing which forces the liver to work harder at metabolizing the instantly present fructose.

Fructose found in nature is bound to glucose which undergoes a breaking down process in the stomach before the fructose moves on to the liver. This process allows the liver time to efficiently handle the fructose over time instead of being flushed with fructose within a few minutes.

What is the difference in fructose and glucose, and how does the body use them?  

Sugar can take many forms but the most common are sucrose, glucose, and fructose.  Glucose and fructose are both simple sugars.

When glucose is consumed, it is absorbed into the blood stream, and makes it way to the liver where it is broken down to supply energy to the entire body. This breaking down process requires insulin.  When fructose is consumed, it does not need insulin to be metabolized which makes it a better choice for diabetics.  It releases its energy at a slower rate than glucose.

Fructose is much sweeter than glucose. Once fructose has been cooked, it loses much of its sweetness, which is why granulated sugar is recommended for baking.

Is this why white bread and white pastas get such a bad rap?

White bread and pastas get a “bad rap” due to the low-carbohydrate diet ads telling consumers the reason they are overweight is because they eat too many carbohydrates.  There has never been one food that has solely made an individual overweight. It is the behaviors the person acts out that leads to obesity.  Food just happens to be the means to which the person is acting out their behaviors. The difference between white bread/pasta and wheat bread/pasta is the nutritional content of the product. Both are made from carbohydrates but whole wheat products contain a higher protein and fiber amount due to the complex carbohydrate.  So essential you are getting “more bang for your buck”.

Do you really believe there is a link between obesity and the rise in HFCS consumption?

I believe there is a link between obesity and the rise in HFCS but not necessarily due to the HFCS alone.  More Americans are consuming a diet high in empty calories and refined sugars.  I am not advocating that you restrict all sugar intake, but all foods can have their place in a moderate diet.  To reemphasize, it is not the HFCS, but the amounts at which an individual is taking in!

Is there a healthy way to avoid HFCS w/o being too cautious (a.k.a. "eating disordered")?

Yes, there is a way to “avoid” HFCS without acting out on eating disordered behaviors.  By following a balanced and moderate meal plan, you will be getting your nutritional needs met from a variety of sources including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products.  By have a balanced variety in your daily intake, you will be controlling the amount of total sugar you are ingesting.  This is another reason it is important to follow a meal plan because food is not just about calories.  Our bodies redeem many health benefits (or dangers) from the foods we eat.  Just because an individual consumes 2,000 calories does not mean that he/she met his/her needs.  Quality does matter!


I’m now wary of consuming HFCS because of the suggested link to weight, but I also see it as somewhat of a natural product if they call it “corn sugar.”

Bottom line, HFCS is not a “natural” product. It is modified by food companies so they have a sweetener source that is inexpensive and shelf stable.  I think it is important to limit the amount of HFCS in your intake, but this naturally occurs when you are consuming a moderate intake full of variety.  If certain products have HFCS and there is another option, then I will choose the other option.  But I will still have a soda (IN MODERATION) even though I know HFCS is an ingredient.  To act out an eating disordered behavior means you would be going to one extreme or another.  So I encourage my clients to check your motives and determine if the extreme you are going to “avoid” a food item is really due to an eating disordered fear versus TRUE health reason!

I welcome all questions from clients and will be more than happy to use your questions in the next Q&A post!  If  you have questions, please email them to