Q: What is the difference between high-fructose corn syrup and corn syrup? Are both bad for me?
A: High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has received quite a bit of media attention in recent years. Found in many foods and beverages, it’s the typical added sugar component of modern processed foods and can have potentially negative health consequences. While HFCS is comprised of approximately 45 percent glucose and 55 percent fructose (the exact percentage of fructose can vary depending on the product), plain corn syrup is simply glucose, the most basic sugar molecule, and doesn’t receive as much media coverage. [Tweet this fact!]
Both are added sugars, and in my opinion, added sugars should be minimized in your diet as much as possible. The negative health consequences can be seen in the different ways that fructose and glucose are metabolized. Fructose is absorbed in your small intestine but shuttled off to your liver for processing before it hits your bloodstream. If too much fructose enters your liver, whatever cannot be processed will be converted into fat, which will ultimately exacerbate metabolic syndrome.
In comparison, glucose is dumped directly into your bloodstream, ready for your tissues to soak it up and use as energy. This is why HFCS gets a lot more bad press than corn syrup. However a recent article published in the Advances in Nutrition brought into question the role of fructose in the declining health of Americans, concluding that the current body of research on the negative effects of fructose does not take into account the context of how people are normally consuming fructose.
Still, I recommend that you avoid both types of corn syrup with equal fervor. I also believe we should be less concerned about HFCS and more concerned about our total intake of added sugars in our diets. Both HFCS and corn syrup are widely used in prepared foods, so if you drink a 20-ounce soda containing HFCS, corn syrup, or even sucrose, your biggest health concern shouldn’t be the type of sugar but the fact that you just slugged 15 teaspoons of sugar. The key is to avoid overconsumption of sugar by reading labels and sticking to foods without lots of added sugars—of any kind.