Is High Fructose Corn Syrup Bad for You? Yes, Says Dr. Oz


The real deal on high fructose corn syrup. Credit: Steve Snodgrass

Today’s post on whether high fructose corn syrup is bad for you is part of FBG’s Back to Basics Week that features the best beginner fitness and beginner nutrition posts that help you to be a little healthier and—in theme with the week—a little smarter. Read on to learn how to ditch HFCS—and the health-related reasons why you should—from YOU: Losing Weight: The Owner’s Manual to Simple and Healthy Weight Loss, by Michael F. Roizen and Mehmet C. Oz (aka Dr. Oz!).

High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)—once considered the “Frankenfood” fueling America’s obesity epidemic—recently earned a presidential-style pardon. The American Medical Association concluded last June that this much-maligned sweetener was no worse than sugar. Recently, in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a group of noted nutrition experts who’ve studied this processed sweet stuff agreed. Even if you don’t read medical journals or follow the headlines, you’ve probably seen the pro-HFCS commercials on TV—paid for by the Corn Refiners Association—featuring smiling moms reassuring one another that HFCS is perfectly safe and natural. (Of course, cyanide is also natural. Not that taking HFCS is the equivalent of ingesting cyanide, but don’t think it has a clean bill of health.)

Hold that honey-mustard dipping sauce. Who said sugar was a great item to add to food? Further, almost all of the reports that found HFCS to be the same as sugar have been funded by groups that profit from sales of HFCS—including soda makers and their lobbyists. And we believe that the most important question remains whether big doses of fructose could trigger obesity in ways that go beyond all those excess calories.

Yes, we said fructose. But we don’t mean the quantities found in fresh fruit, which come packaged with fiber and lots of nutrients. We’re talking about the nutritionally empty megadoses added to soda, commercial sweets and baked goods. We’re also talking about all the little hits you’re getting from foods that don’t even seem sweet, such as ketchup and salad dressing. A growing stack of research suggests that getting too much fructose in your diet interferes with telling your brain that you’re full and should stop eating. In a new University of Florida lab study, animals that ate a high-fat, high-calorie diet that was also high in fructose became leptin resistant (resistant to changes leptin causes in the brain, such as ability to suppress appetite) and gained more weight than animals that ate a similar diet, minus the fructose. And fructose in large quantities overwhelms your liver’s ability to process it without producing inflammation-producing compounds.

Truth is, HFCS isn’t the only source of excess fructose in the American diet. Table sugar has a similar makeup (roughly equal amounts of fructose and glucose). The reason HFCS comes under such fire is that the food industry’s been pumping more and more of it into foods since the 1970s because it’s cheap, mixes easily into beverages, and enhances flavor and shelf life. The result: we eat 1,000 times more HFCS now than when Richard Nixon was president—on average 63 pounds a year! That’s more than 230,000 calories worth. Per person! Per year! The greatest cost differential in our global fight for jobs is health-care costs: Health-care costs are twice as expensive in America as in Europe since we have twice the chronic disease. Food choices, physical inactivity, tobacco and stress cause 70 percent of those chronic diseases. So if all you care about is the potential for jobs in America, you’d ban tobacco and simple sugars like HFCS added to your foods.

The bottom line: Getting the obvious, and not so obvious, sweeteners out of your diet will save you hundreds of calories a day—and remove a substance that could be flipping metabolic switches without your permission. Here’s how…

How to Cut HFCS Out of Your Diet

  • Say no to soda and other sweetened drinks. The calories alone are enough reason to stop sipping liquid candy: A single 18-ounce soda, sweet iced tea or fruit drink can pack 200 or more calories—courtesy of the 15 teaspoons of sugar-like sweetener, usually HFCS, these beverages contain.
  • Transition. If you’re breaking a serious soda habit, transitioning to an artificially sweetened, 0-calorie version is a good stepping-stone on your way to healthier drinks: unsweetened iced tea, hot tea, black coffee or skim milk. (Yes, coffee and tea are much healthier, according to much scientific data not sponsored by those who might profit from such.)
  • Read labels to find hidden HFCS. Check the ingredients lists of all the processed foods you buy for HFCS (as well as other sweeteners you don’t need, such as rice syrup). You’ll find HFCS in many breads, sweetened yogurts and condiments. Buy only the brands without ’em, and certainly without them in the first five ingredients.

A big thanks to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen for breaking down the HFCS issue! How do you avoid HFCS in your diet? —Jenn


About the Authors
Michael F. Roizen, M.D., author of  YOU: Losing Weight: The Owner’s Manual to Simple and Healthy Weight Loss (Copyright © 2006, 2009, 2011 by Michael F. Roizen, MD, and Oz Works LLC, f/s/o Mehmet C. Oz, MD), is a New York Times #1 bestselling author and cofounder and originator of the popular RealAge.com website. He is chief wellness officer and chair of the Wellness Institute of the Cleveland Clinic and health expert of The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Mehmet C. Oz, M.D., author of  YOU: Losing Weight: The Owner’s Manual to Simple and Healthy Weight Loss (Copyright © 2006, 2009, 2011 by Michael F. Roizen, MD, and Oz Works LLC, f/s/o Mehmet C. Oz, MD), is also a New York Times #1 bestselling author and host of The Dr. Oz Show. He is professor and vice chairman of surgery at New York Presbyterian-Columbia University and the director of the Heart Institute.

FTC disclosure: We often receive products from companies to review. All thoughts and opinions are always entirely our own. Unless otherwise stated, we have received no compensation for our review and the content is purely editorial. Affiliate links may be included. If you purchase something through one of those links we may receive a small commission. Thanks for your support!


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  1. Cat says:

    I always read labels and avoid HFCS. We also cut down on the amount of regular sugar we add to recipes and daily life, etc. We do NOT use alternate sweeteners in sugar’s place- we have just adjusted to eating things less-sweet.

    It seems that our society has gotten conditioned to everything being overly sweet because of the high concentrations of fructose in nearly everything! It’s amazing the flavors that come out of foods that are not drenched in sugar once your palette is broken of that ‘sweet’ habit! A nice ripe pear with a NATURAL amount of fructose is now a flavorful and yes very sweet treat.

  2. Suziee says:

    Hmmm… I’m still not convinced by this article as to why HFCS is TRULY bad for you. The two main points that are pointed out are that 1) too much “fructose” may prohibit your brain in realizing that you’re full and 2) that, in large quantities) may overwhelm your liver (is this “overwhelming” much different from consuming other ingredients in large quantities?). Both these reasons don’t really persuade me (and probably don’t persuade the government and businesses using HFCS) that HFCS is an ingredient is truly detrimental to your health (relative to other options, of course) and should be banned.

    And on top of that the article also mentions that table sugar has the same makeup as HFCS. Though consuming “healthier” alternatives (i.e. agave nectar, honey) may be plausible for the more health-conscious folks, what would you suggest to those in the food industry to substitute HFCS with? I would love to hear your thoughts!

  3. Emilie says:

    Not sure who to believe with the variety of claims that are out there….everything in moderation, right?

  4. Kenia says:

    “And fructose in large quantities overwhelms your liver’s ability to process it without producing inflammation-producing compounds.”
    @Suzii – To answer your question a little further, the reason why this “overwhelming” is different from consuming other ingredients in large quantities, is because other ingredients are metabolized by your entire body. HFCS is *only* metabolized in the liver. The rest of the body is literally incapable of breaking it down. When the liver is put to the task of metabolizing All of the HFCS in the body (again, it arrives almost completely intact) the liver produces fatty acids, which can create a “fatty liver.”
    So while the chemical make-up may be similar, it is not the same, and our bodies do not process it the same way as sugar or corn syrup.

  5. Anth says:

    Switching to a 0- cal diet version with artificial sweetener is an alternative??? It might not pack on calories but aspartame has awful consequences on your health and the studies that have been done ARE by the people profiting off of them. Even research done on it was found to produce bad effects but the results were tampered with and this all due to, once again, the people overseeing and funding them are the profiters themselves. Not to mention the amount of lobbyist money that has gone to the FDA and USDA. I dont think this should have been recommended if you are looking our for the peoples health. How about tea not sweetened at all. or water. or coconut milk. or water. or water. or water. or water.

    But there is definitely something up with these HFCSs. Pay close attention to your body and how it operates with it, and then without it for a long period, then with it again. I cant finish a can of soda without getting a stomach ache now. I haven’t taken in foods or drinks with high amounts of added sugar for years and now I cant even drink soda. i guess i could become immune to that if i started drinking it regularly again like when i was a kid, but why would i want to do that? pay attention to your body.

    Buy organic, help your economy, your body, your mood, your energy levels, money(future savings in doctor bills), create jobs(without funding conglomerates), processed food is so cheap on the shelves…. but you end up paying for it later. Way more than a few added dollars.

  6. Manase says:

    I have been boycotting HFCS products for some time now and I am glad they are begining to introduce jams and cereals without it. Consumer power is speaking

  7. Joanne says:

    Check out High Fructose Corn Syrup Rats on youtube video. It’s hilarious and educational.

  8. rachel says:

    lol, try it yourself bradley. Actually what your body usually runs on is GLUCOSE, which is found in wholegrain bread and pasta etc, as well protein and vegetables and GOOD fats, found in nuts, wholefat milk and cheese and olive oil.

    However, the sugar, such as cane sugar, that is found in mostly everything is half glucose, but unfortunately, half FRUCTOSE as well which is very bad news for the body in the quantities that we consume.

    Yes, I know that fructose is in fruit, (which was a bit of a rarity in our hunter-gatherer days) but at least if you eat WHOLE fruit (not dried fruit and definately not juice) you are getting the fibre and water that goes along with the fruit so that your body naturally stops at ONE whole orange, instead of you getting 6 oranges worth of fructose in one sitting (not natural).

    Fructose is found in half of all sugar, raw sugar, molasses is something like 90% fructose, honey is a no go too. The only sugar you can eat and that your body understands that you are eating is GLUCOSE aka dextrose. You can find bags of powdered dextrose in a brewing store and replace sugar in recipes for dextrose.

    The recipes will taste a little different, but because 90% of foods have either sugar or (even worse) high fructose corn syrup you have to learn to make your own cakes and snacks.

    Fructose is metabolized through the liver (which is harsh on it) and it goes straight to your fat reserves (because your body thinks it may never comes across fructose again, because it used to be rarity up until 200 years ago), and it messes with your appetite control so it leaves you thinking about food all the time, it promotes and feeds cancer, and it is HIGHLY addictive, just about as much as nicotine except sugar is in everything so you can’t get away from it. You cannot be “moderate” with something that is highly addictive! Sorry! But the good news is you will stop craving it within a few days to a month (you will feel its grip slipping away though).

    Don’t look to your dieticians and calorie counters to tell you what is safe to eat and do not listen to the corn council or even your doctor may be relying on what they were taught 20 or even 10 years ago regarding diet. We are killing ourselves with our new “modern” diet. Do you really think that the sugar and corn and nutritional organisations REALLY care about your and your families health? No. They are there to make a buck from YOUR sickness.

    I’m not saying it’s a conspiracy to deliberately make you sick, but there is nothing to be gained if they let the secret out and you stop buying their crappy products that they are marketing as “food”.

    Read every label. If something is more than 10% sugar, put it down and walk away. Stay away from plant seed oil spreads because they cause cancer (but that’s another topic, just look at israel’s instance of cancer) Look out for corn syrup too, and run away screaming from it.

    Eat more GREEN vegetables. Shop the perimetre of the store – fish, meat with the fat on, butter, vegetables, a little bit of fruit but don’t go overboard, a bit of wholegrain bread, FULL FAT and low sugar greek yogurt and full fat milk (which contains mostly lactose anyway, the good sugar), walnuts, seeds, olive oil, avocado with pepper, herbs and spices tofu, seaweed etc These will become your new friends and your tastebuds will come alive!

    Don’t be scared of good fats. Fat doesn’t make you fat – sugar (ie the fructose half of sugar) is processed by the liver which makes you fat. Live healthy and educate your family and friends (they may be resistant at first).

    Stay away from sweeteners, especially aspartame!

    What about drinks? Cut out juice, energy drinks, soda (yes, even diet because they are highly un-natural). What can you drink? Filtered water, unflavored milk (preferably full fat), or even soda water (carbondated water). Warm or cool water with a slice of lemon or lime. Moderate amounts of coffee is ok, but personally I avoid it. Tea (preferably with no milk) is fine. The Asians have been drinking it for thousands of years with no milk, and even using it for health remedies. If you don’t want any of those options, then you can’t be thirsy enough! You are your children will not die of thirst to prove a point…

    Read Sweet Poison or Sugar Blues. Or if you want some websites here are some:

    A Year of No Sugar: http://eveschaub.com/
    Raisin’ Hell: http://www.raisin-hell.com/
    Sarah Wilson: http://www.sarahwilson.com.au/

  9. Asia says:

    I’m just wondering is glucose syrup as bad as hfcs?