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High-Fructose Corn Syrup Exposed: How It Impacts Your Health

There is absolutely no question that high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) isn’t good for you. In the last 20 years, plenty of studies have demonstrated its effects on human metabolism, non-alcohol fatty liver disease, and contributions to the high obesity rate in America. Health advocates have declared them as “deadly” for children and adults, alike, but is there an allowable amount that you can consume without developing health complications?

In the last 20 years, we have seen a lot of news regarding HFCS. In the documentary, Super Size Me, the narrator indicates that HFCS was first developed to help fatten cows, then food manufacturers discovered that it could also serve as a less expensive sweetener than sugar. You can easily find HFCS in the ingredients list for most soft drinks, namely sodas and sweetened teas, as well as other highly processed sweet snacks. My aim is to inform you of the possible health risks when consuming HFCS, the safe limits of consumption to avoid these implications, and the misinformation spread by self-proclaimed health advocates.

Potential Health Implications

High-fructose corn syrup is a sweetener that’s derived from corn starch. It’s a low cost sweetener for foods and beverages, and has the ability to enhance flavors. One of the main health concerns is its link to the rising rates of obesity. Since HFCS is high in calories and easily absorbed by the body, excess consumption leads to a caloric surplus, often resulting in weight gain. Studies have indicated HFCS is a likely culprit behind the prevalence of obesity and metabolic disorders in America.

Since the late 80s, research has demonstrated that HFCS may lead to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In fact, increased insulin resistance and impaired glucose tolerance has become prevalent, particularly for those that consume large amounts of HFCS.

Research has demonstrated that HFCS consumption may elevate blood sugar levels and promote the accumulation of visceral fat, both of which are risk factors for developing diabetes. Visceral fat is the type of fat that surrounds vital organs and linked to chronic health risks, many of which may be deadly.

What do you think happens to cardiovascular health when consuming HFCS? Research indicates that the large amount of fructose in HFCS has been found to increase levels of triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood. Elevated triglyceride levels are a known risk factor for heart disease and may contribute to the development of atherosclerosis. While fructose is also present in fruit, it’s not absorbed in the the same way as HFCS is absorbed because fruit contains much less fructose and also contains fiber.

Safe Limits of Consumption

How much HCFS can you consume where it does not pose significant health risk? Before you figure this, it’s first important to understand how much sugar is recommended. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar to just 25g, meanwhile that CDC’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 suggests no more than 10% of daily calories coming from added sugar. It’s important to remember that this is “added sugar”, like adding sugar to your coffee, meaning that it’s not the same as eating two bananas, which has about 30g of sugar. Remember, bananas are loaded with nutrients and contain fiber, so don’t you dare try to argue bananas cause obesity.

A can of soda contains approximately 39 grams of sugar, most of which coming from HFCS. Just the one can of soda already exceeds the daily suggestion from the American Heart Association and comes close to the CDC limit, which is dependent upon the total calories in a given day. With this in mind, it would be suggested to limit the quantity and frequency of HFCS-containing foods and beverages to stay within the safe limits.

You can limit the amount of added sugar you consume in a day by adopting a balanced diet that is rich in whole foods and limited in highly processed foods and beverages, particularly those with HFCS.

Misinformation about High-Fructose Corn Syrup

Unsurprisingly, for the vast majority of social media influencers that claim to be nutrition experts (don’t even expect them to list their education nor qualifications) they exaggerate some of the dangers regarding HFCS. For example, I recently saw one where a “keto health expert” holding a bottle of soda was claiming that it was literally poison that you’re feeding your kids and yourself by consuming anything with HFCS. Look, there’s no question that prolonged overconsumption of HFCS is likely to increase health risks, but just having one or two sodas a week is not going to kill you. When people share such misinformation, it creates fear and confusion among individuals, thus making it more difficult to eat healthy.

Is it safer to eat or drink things made with real sugar or HFCS? It is a common misconception is that HFCS is inherently more harmful than other forms of added sugars. The reality is that the body metabolizes HFCS similarly to other sources of fructose and glucose. It’s not just HFCS consumption that can lead towards potential health problems, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes, but, rather, excessive intake that can lead to these problems.

Additionally, some critics claim that HFCS is more addictive than other sweeteners, which many believe is what leads to overconsumption. There has actually been some evidence of this, but it’s really limited and not nearly enough to conclusively declare that HFCS is addictive, meaning that the addictive properties of HFCS are often exaggerated. However, evolutionarily speaking, humans have long been conditioned to be enjoy sweet foods and drinks, which may explain why so many types of fruit are naturally sweet— this way we can eat them and then dispose of the seeds so they can be spread out and allow new plants to grow!


High-fructose corn syrup is most definitely not good for you, but if you can limit your consumption to adequate levels, such as no more than 25g in a day, you’re going to be completely okay, assuming that the remainder of your diet is healthy and you’re exercising regularly. There’s plenty evidence linking HFCS with obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular issues, but this has only been demonstrated with excessive consumption, meaning that moderate intake that is within recommended limits is unlikely to cause significant harm.


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