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High Fructose Corn Syrup: What's All the Controversy?

Updated on February 18, 2012

High fructose corn syrup...what can possibly be wrong with a natural sweetener? Your mother and grandmother likely used Karo corn syrup for baking--and perhaps you do too. Is this product something to be avoided?

There's been controversy over the use of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as an added sweetener to products such as soda pop, flavored fruit juices and many processed foods, especially with the growing epidemic of obesity in the United States. At least part of the controversy is due to the fact that high fructose corn syrup is the leading used sweetener in processed foods and beverages. Not everyone is aware that this ingredient is a sugar, so it may be overlooked by those reading labels and wanting to reduce their sugar intake.


High Fructose Corn Syrup Scientific Evidence

Some studies have suggested that high fructose corn syrup may disable the enzyme leptin. Leptin signals the brain that the stomach is full. Studies done on rats show that every single rat that was given high doses of HFCS gained weight, something that did not happen when rats were fed a high fat diet--some gained weight, while others did not. Still another study with rats, some who were fed table sugar and some HFCS, but the same total calories, resulted in the rats fed HFCS gaining a significant amount of weight over their table sugar fed counterparts. explains that scientific research on high fructose corn syrup is still evolving. It is too soon to prove positive or negative effects on humans consuming HFCS. But too much sugar--of any kind--can have a negative effect on the human body. HFCS and any sweetener should be used in moderation.

Read processed food labels carefully to learn what is in them. Even seemingly "innocent" foods such as processed marinara sauces contain high fructose corn syrup. Use fresh foods as much as possible in cooking. The closer a food is to its natural state, the less likely it is to have any sweetener added.

Fructose and Weight Gain

The results of a study titled "Fructose, Weight Gain and the Insulin Resistance Syndrome," published in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" November 2002 relates that American consumption of fructose and high fructose corn syrup had increased by 26 percent from the period 1971 through 1997. Obesity rates in the United States have also climbed, reaching the epidemic proportions we are seeing currently.

The study's purpose was to determine the relationship between fructose and obesity as well as insulin resistance.

Insulin and leptin are two of the body's substances that regulate how the body metabolizes energy. Fructose bypasses these two substances. The insulin-producing cells of the pancreas do not recognize fructose as a sugar, so insulin is not produced in response to the presence of fructose in the digestive system. Leptin production for sugar metabolism is dependent on the presence of insulin. Since insulin is not produced to utilize fructose, leptin production is likewise reduced. This results in more sugar remaining in the bloodstream due to the unused fructose. Fructose then becomes metabolized to fat in the liver.

Animal studies demonstrate a clear relationship between fructose and the development of insulin resistance, glucose intolerance and hypertension, but that relationship has been less clear in human studies. More research will need to be done in this area before there is a clear relationship between fructose and weight gain and insulin resistance.

For now, the study authors point to data that suggests that high amounts of fructose in the diet lead to weight gain and metabolic effects such as insulin resistance. Science requires a high level of replicable research before it will report conclusively on any subject. In the meantime, examine these facts and conclusions and make a determination on the effects of fructose in your diet and its possible health consequences.


U.S. Government Ends Corn Subsidy

On December 31, 2011 the United States subsidy to corn growers for ethanol fuel made from the crop died a quiet death -- it simply expired. As it turns out, ethanol made from corn is no better for your car's engine than high fructose corn syrup is for yours.

How, you may ask, does that affect high fructose corn syrup?

The government subsidies provided billions of dollars to corn producers over the years; $6 billion alone in 2011, reports These subsidies reduced the price of corn, making it attractive to food and beverage producers to use in their products. Over the 30 year span of the corn subsidy, high fructose corn syrup appeared in more and more foods and beverages.

American consumers began getting more savvy about choosing products with HFCS as an ingredient after 1999, when consumption of the substance reached an all-time high of 45 pounds of HFCS for each individual on average per year. The trend has been almost exclusively downward in high fructose corn syrup since that time.


Karo Syrup

Karo syrup, both the light--or white--and dark syrups are free of high fructose corn syrup. The products are corn syrup, but not HFCS. The company explains that during the 1970's high fructose corn syrup was added to the products, but due to consumer demand, HFCS was removed.


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    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Crystal, I think the craving you mentioned is an insidious side effect of high fructose corn syrup that its manufacturers count on. If you're interested in reading about another addictive substance in food, Rajan Jolly has an excellent hub about MSG - MonoSodium Glutamate - The Common Food Additive.

      Thanks so much for the read and the comment.

    • Crystal Tatum profile image

      Crystal Tatum 

      6 years ago from Georgia

      High fructose corn syrup is my enemy for sure. I find that if I ingest anything with this ingredient, I crave more and more. It also wreaks havoc on my blood sugar. Great topic.

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Mama K 8, thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you found the information useful.

      Thanks for sharing.

    • Mama Kim 8 profile image

      Sasha Kim 

      6 years ago

      Fascinating! I'd been hearing that high sugar diets were worse than high fat diets... and now I understand why ^_^ Than you for this in-depth information! Voted up and pinned

    • joymk profile image


      6 years ago from Michigan

      Thank you for posting this. I have been avoiding HFCS since being diagnosed with non-alocholic fatty liver disease and NASH (non alcoholic steatohepatitis)...since avoiding HFCS for 2 months (as well as all sweeteners honestly...though I had thought that I was eating healthy since I never add sugar or sweeteners...I hadn't thought about all of the condiments!), I've dropped 30 lbs and my liver numbers have improved dramatically. These people who say it's no big deal or that it doesn't harm your health are either jerks or fools. HFCS does harm our health in a scary way.

    • BlissfulWriter profile image


      6 years ago

      I try to avoid foods with high fructose corn syrup. I feel that it is one factor causing obesity.

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Gypsy Willow, I'm with you. If they made the font on ingredient labels any smaller, we'd all have to carry magnifying glasses to the grocery store.

      Thanks for the read and your comment.

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Turtlewoman, if you enjoy pecan pie, karo syrup is the way to go. There's the basic recipe for this dessert on the karo bottle -- you can use the light or dark syrup for your pie.

      Thank you for reading and for your comment.

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Sandrabusby, you are most welcome. I appreciate the read and your comment.

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Sgbrown, thanks for the read and the comments. I think that just being aware of the down side of HCFS is helpful, especially if you are a label reader. You may not always avoid this ingredient altogether, but you will be making more informed choices.

      Thanks for SHARING.

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Brett.Tesol, you're right, sometimes it seems overwhelming with the information science provides about this food and that ingredient. Natural honey is a wonderful sweetener and has so many healthy properties of its own.

      Thanks for SHARING.

    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 

      6 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      Thanks for giving us this information on a controversial subject. I try to avoid them but the ingredients printed on labels is usually in very small print and some slip by!

    • Turtlewoman profile image

      Kim Lam 

      6 years ago from California

      Very useful hub. HFCS is hidden in many different forms in our food. Hmm, I've never used Karo but I' heard of it.

      Voted up

    • sandrabusby profile image

      Sandra Busby 

      6 years ago from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA

      Thanks for helping to "get the word out." Sandra Busby

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 

      6 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      Great information. We need to stay away from HFCS when we can. Voted up and useful. :)

    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett Caulton 

      6 years ago from Asia

      Up and useful, I swear they find out that almost everything is bad for us! lol However, the weight issue is massive in the US and pretty bad in the UK too now. I now tend to use natural honey as a sweetener.

      Thanks for SHARING.

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Eddie, you are right. There seems to be so many things we have to be cautious about in the foods we eat.

      I recently read that a group of corn suppliers and food manufacturers have petitioned the government to change the name of high fructose corn syrup to something like "corn sugar." The desired name change is undoubtedly to get around the bad press that HFCS has had.

    • eddiecarrara profile image

      Eddie Carrara 

      6 years ago from New Hampshire

      As a family we have always tried to avoid HFCS but it's on almost every label in the grocery store. I think your right, try eating foods straight from the plant to avoid added sugar, but then you have to worry about pesticides, lol. Good hub, something to think about, voted up and useful.

    • L.L. Woodard profile imageAUTHOR

      L.L. Woodard 

      7 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Thanks for stopping by, kentucky. Avoidance of HFC is yet another good reason to read food labels diligently.

    • kentuckyslone profile image


      7 years ago

      Good information, we try to avoid HFC whenever we can.


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