Is High Fructose Corn Syrup Worse Than Sugar?

Learn why banning high fructose corn syrup won't necessarily solve the obesity problem.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
5-minute read
Episode #94

The experts out there talking about fructose and HFCS know the difference between the culprit and the source (at least I hope so). But they haven’t done a good job making the distinction clear to the public. And that’s working out great for the food manufacturers.

People have gotten the message that sugary soft drinks can make you gain weight. And they know that soft drinks are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. And now they’re hearing that high fructose corn syrup is responsible for the obesity epidemic. Switching from Pepsi made with high fructose corn syrup to Pepsi made with cane sugar should solve the problem, right? That’s what Pepsi hopes you’ll think. But if too much fructose is the problem, switching to Pepsi Throwback isn’t going to help.

Should You Avoid All Fructose?

Now my analogy between tobacco and fructose has one weakness. Smoking tobacco is harmful in any amount. And that’s definitely not the case with fructose. Fructose has been an integral part of the human diet since Adam and Eve. It’s called fructose because it’s found in fruit. It’s also found in refined sugars, which we are consuming in massive amounts.

Let me give you a second analogy. Vitamin A (retinol) can be toxic if you get too much of it. You’re unlikely to get into trouble by consuming the amount of vitamin A you get in whole foods like chicken livers.   But you do need to watch out for concentrated sources of vitamin A, such as high-dose vitamin supplements or cod liver oil.

Similarly, you are unlikely to suffer an overload from the amounts of fructose you’d get in whole foods like fruit—or even from an occasional soft drink. But large amounts of sweets, sodas, and sweetened beverages every day can definitely add up to too much fructose.

The Quick and Dirty on High Fructose Corn Syrup

Most foods that contain high fructose corn syrup are highly-processed, calorie-dense foods without a lot of nutritional value. Avoiding this ingredient will take a lot of unhealthy foods out of your diet. I’m all for it! Just don’t confuse the carrier with the culprit. All added sugars (including natural sugars like honey and agave nectar) contain fructose and can increase your risk of weight gain if you consume them in excess.

If you have a nutrition question for me, send an email to nutrition@quickanddirtytips.com or post it on my Nutrition Diva Facebook Page. If tweeting is more your thing, I also have a handy little Twitter account. 

You can also search the archives using the search box at the top of the page. There’s a good chance I might have already answered your question in a previous article.

Have a great week and remember to eat something good for me!


The Bitter Truth about Fructose Alarmism (Alan Aragon)

The Facts About High Fructose Corn Syrup (Marion Nestle)

What Are the Concerns about High Fructose Corn Syrup? (Mayo Clinic)


Image courtesy of Shutterstock


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.