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What Are the Adverse Effects of Eating Too Much High Fructose Corn Syrup?

Last updated March 31, 2015

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Research published by the American Society for Nutrition showed that the average intake of added sugar was 77 grams per day, which equals 19 teaspoons or 306 calories.

In America, it seems wherever you look, food items contain high fructose corn syrup. Instead of cane sugar, many food companies have resorted to high fructose corn syrup because it is sweeter and less expensive. However, as the use of high fructose corn syrup has increased, so has the obesity rate. Although correlation does not mean causation, many researchers are now investigating the reasons for the existence of such a relationship.

High fructose corn syrup includes any corn syrup that has gone through an enzymatic process to convert some glucose into fructose, to produce a preferred sweetness per requirement of the company’s product. The name can be misleading though because it implies that high fructose corn syrup only contains fructose.

In regular table sugar, there is a 50/50 yield of glucose to fructose. Depending on the product, the fructose to glucose ratio can differ with high fructose corn syrup.

The most widely used varieties of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) include the following:

  • HFCS-55 is used mostly in soft drinks and contains approximately 55% fructose and 42% glucose.
  • HFCS-42 can be used in beverages, processed foods, cereals, and baked goods and contains approximately 42% fructose and 53% glucose.
  • HFCS-90 is blended with HFCS 42 to make HFCS for special purposes containing approximately 90% fructose and 10% glucose.

In high fructose corn syrup, the simple sugars (glucose and fructose) exist freely as against a more complex bond in table sugar.

A commentary in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2004 proposed that, compared to glucose, the altered digestion of fructose might be an important problem in increasing obesity rates. Fructose can convert to fat more quickly than glucose, and fructose causes less of a rise in leptin; the decreased leptin causes decreased fullness and increased hunger. Subsequent interviews by two of the authors stated that there was a distorted emphasis on high fructose corn syrup, and the overall issue was the overconsumption of any sugar.

Other studies suggested that moderate fructose consumption can help your body’s metabolism. A 2010 review of the Nutrition & Metabolism suggested that consuming moderate amounts of fructose could reduce appetite if consumed prior to a meal, lower blood sugar spikes compared to glucose and delay exhaustion if consumed during exercise.

Research published by the American Society for Nutrition showed that the average intake of added sugar was 77 grams per day, which equals 19 teaspoons or 306 calories. However, the American Heart Association (AHA) has suggested a much lower amount of added sugars that one should eat in a day. Men should not consume more than 150 calories per day or 9 teaspoons in the added sugar form; women should consume 100 calories per day or 6 teaspoons or less.

Excess sugar consumption is linked to obesity, type II diabetes, heart disease, various forms of cancers, tooth decay, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Evidence from Princeton University even showed that sugary junk foods excite the same areas of the brain as drugs of abuse, indicating an addictive effect that can explain why many cannot stop consuming these products.

Like every other type of sugar, high fructose corn syrup should be consumed with extreme caution. So generally, it is advisable to consume the products with high fructose syrup very sparingly.

Written by Stephen Umunna

Additional Resources:

Ackerman, Z., Oron-Herman, M., Grozovski, M., Rosenthal, T., Pappo, O., Link, G., & Sela, B. A. (2005). Fructose-Induced fatty liver disease hepatic effects of blood pressure and plasma triglyceride reduction. Hypertension,45(5), 1012-1018.

Avena, N. M., Rada, P., & Hoebel, B. G. (2008). Evidence for sugar addiction: behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake.Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews32(1), 20-39.

Basu, S., Yoffe, P., Hills, N., & Lustig, R. H. (2013). The relationship of sugar to population-level diabetes prevalence: an econometric analysis of repeated cross-sectional data. PLoS One8(2), e57873.

Bray, G. A., Nielsen, S. J., & Popkin, B. M. (2004). Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity.The American journal of clinical nutrition79(4), 537-543.

Fung, T. T., Malik, V., Rexrode, K. M., Manson, J. E., Willett, W. C., & Hu, F. B. (2009). Sweetened beverage consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in women. The American journal of clinical nutrition89(4), 1037-1042.

Johnson, R. K., Appel, L. J., Brands, M., Howard, B. V., Lefevre, M., Lustig, R. H., ... & Wylie-Rosett, J. (2009). Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health a scientific statement from the american heart association. Circulation,120(11), 1011-1020.

Larsson, S. C., Bergkvist, L., & Wolk, A. (2006). Consumption of sugar and sugar-sweetened foods and the risk of pancreatic cancer in a prospective study.The American journal of clinical nutrition84(5), 1171-1176.

Ludwig, D. S., Peterson, K. E., & Gortmaker, S. L. (2001). Relation between consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and childhood obesity: a prospective, observational analysis. The Lancet357(9255), 505-508.

Moeller, S. M., Fryhofer, S. A., Osbahr III, A. J., & Robinowitz, C. B. (2009). The effects of high fructose syrup. Journal of the American College of Nutrition,28(6), 619-626.

Rippe, J. M., & Angelopoulos, T. J. (2013). Sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, and fructose, their metabolism and potential health effects: what do we really know?. Advances in Nutrition: An International Review Journal4(2), 236-245.

Rizkalla, S. W. (2010). Health implications of fructose consumption: A review of recent data. Nutr Metab (Lond)7, 82.

Welsh, J. A., Sharma, A. J., Grellinger, L., & Vos, M. B. (2011). Consumption of added sugars is decreasing in the United States. The American journal of clinical nutrition94(3), 726-734.

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: March 31, 2015
Last updated: March 31, 2015