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Controversy: Is high-fructose corn syrup worse than sugar? Doctors' opinions.

The debate over high-fructose corn syrup strikes close to everyone's home:  HFCS is in tons of food—much of it targeted to kids.  Some claim it's addictive, makes you fat more effectively than sugar and can even cause diabetes.  If there's any possibility it might be dangerous, shouldn't we avoid it?

In June, one mom, Cathy Blount, started blogging about her family's journey to cut out HFCS.  "Clearly,
the jury is still out on whether HFCS is evil or not," she wrote in her first post, "but there are unknowns and potential problems ... that make me ill at ease."


Her thoughts echo that of some experts in the field.  Well-known integrative physician Andrew Weil wrote on his Web site in September, "I'm concerned that it has disruptive effects on metabolism, because the body doesn't utilize fructose well, and humans have never before consumed it in such quantity."

But many say, calm down!  HFCS is equivalent to sugar.  Eat it in moderation, and you're fine.

As it happens, in the same month Blount started cutting out the sweetener, the American Medical Association released a report.  "Because the composition of HFCS and sucrose are so similar, particularly on absorption by the body, it appears unlikely that HFCS contributes more to obesity or other conditions" than table sugar, the AMA said.

So what's the answer?  We asked two experts:  Is high-fructose corn syrup worse for you than sugar? Here's their take.  You can get in on the debate here .

YES: High-fructose corn syrup is worse for you than sugar.

High-fructose corn syrup is a sweetener manufactured through a complex series of industrial chemical processes.  HCFS was developed to simulate refined sugar. From a health perspective, the most obvious difference is that this carbohydrate contains almost 100-percent free monosaccharides (simple sugars)--namely fructose and glucose.  Refined sugar (sucrose) is a natural disaccharide (double sugar).


kenneth-storch-mdKenneth J. Storch, M.D., Ph.D., physician nutrition specialist focusing on obesity medicine and metabolic support.; director, Storch Medical Nutrition Center, Florham Park, N.J.; medical nutrition director, Atlantic Health System of New Jersey; president, American Board of Physician Nutrition Specialists.

We are beginning to understand the health implications of substituting HFCS for refined sugar.  For instance, a chemical analysis of carbonated beverages by a Rutgers University researcher in 2007 revealed that the free monosaccharides of HFCS are converted to high levels of reactive and potentially harmful carbonyl compounds not found in natural foods. In recognition of potential risks, this year, FDA officials declared that HFCS cannot be considered natural and the word "natural" should not appear on labeling of products containing HFCS.

From the 1960s until this decade, average annual consumption of HCFS has increased from zero to more than 60 pounds per person per year (more than 100,000 calories!).  In HFCS-sweetened beverages, the amount of fructose is higher than in sucrose-sweetened beverages.  Fructose is associated with numerous metabolic problems, including elevated blood fats and gout. It may be more addictive than sucrose and could contribute to obesity and diabetes.

This cheap, unnatural dietary carbohydrate now comprises 15 percent of our total calorie intake!  We are living in an unprecedented epidemic of obesity and metabolic diseases.  I am concerned that we have not fully learned the lesson of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. There is strong evidence that those cheap, unnatural dietary oils caused large numbers of heart attacks and deaths.  They were used increasingly as food ingredients for decades before the evidence of harm became impossible to refute.  Only in recent years have they begun to disappear from the U.S. food supply.

NO: High-fructose corn syrup is not worse for you than sugar.

To summarize the findings of multiple research papers we have published, neither we nor any other reputable investigator has found a significant health hazard or difference between HFCS and sucrose when it comes to any parameter yet measured in human beings.  Included in these are insulin, glucose, leptin, ghrelin, postprandial triglycerides and uric acid.

The American Medical Association investigated potential links between HFCS and obesity for over a year and issued the following statement:  "High-fructose corn syrup does not contribute to obesity more than other calorie sweeteners."

In a sense, finding that HFCS is equivalent to sucrose by every parameter yet measured is not surprising.  They are essentially the same biochemical substance.  HFCS has two main forms.  HFCS-55 is composed of 55-percent fructose, 42-percent glucose and 3-percent other carbohydrates. HFCS-42 is composed of 42-percent fructose and 58-percent glucose.  Common table sugar (sucrose) is 50-percent glucose and 50-percent fructose.

As a practical matter, both are absorbed identically through the human gastrointestinal tract as free glucose and free fructose.

It is time to let the debate rest on the scientific evidence rather than emotion.  In this area there is complete clarity.  Abundant scientific evidence supports that HFCS is not worse for you than sugar.

hands pulling rope

Dr. Rippe’s

HFCS comes from corn.  Table sugar comes from beets and sugar cane.  Both are equally processed. The carbonyl argument was based on highly artificial conditions in a test tube.  Almost none of the carbonyls in HFCS are absorbed in the human body.  HFCS contains less reactive carbonyls than bread, honey, soy sauce, yogurt and many other foods.

Dr. Storch's statement about the FDA is incorrect. This came from a staffer speaking for herself.  The FDA has subsequently clarified its position that HFCS falls within their definition of "natural."

Dr. Storch's comments about metabolic abnormalities represent a confusion between HFCS and pure fructose.  These are very different compounds.

Dr. Whelan’s

My search for peer-reviewed papers by Dr. Rippe turned up one publication comparing HFCS to sucrose.  It measured selected effects after eating HFCS for one day: hardly definitive.

An online industry Web site video,, shows that Dr. Rippe, an esteemed scientist, journal editor and clinician, also serves as a medical spokesperson for the HFCS industry.

A quote from a recent peer-reviewed publication:  "Industry funding of nutrition-related scientific articles may bias conclusions in favor of sponsors' products, with potentially significant implications for public health."

In closing, HFCS is a product providing about 15 percent of U.S. calorie intake, subsidized by our tax dollars, that may be "not worse for you than sugar."


Click here for more debates!

Last updated and/or approved: August 2009. Bios current as of January 2009.
Original article appeared in Jan/Feb 2009 print issue .

Comments (8)add comment
written by Chris Catsimanes , April 13, 2015

Has anyone read the university of Utah study on mice to study the effects of sugar vs. HFCs. And why would I believe someone who is paid by PepsiCo. Do you remember the camel cigarette commercial with doctors praising the taste and throat benefits of camels?
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The issue is misplaced
written by KR , January 16, 2013

It seems to me that the issue is not that the HFCS itself is more/less harmful than sugar. The issue is that people are eating more of it than is healthy. 100 years ago, sugar/HFCS/sweeteners in general were not in EVERY product. Today, we are ingesting sugar in foods we don't even know it's in. tomato sauce, for example, has sugar added. And even according to the study cited, 15% of calorie intake is from HFCS. This does not prove to me that it is worse for me, but that we are eating WAY too much of it.
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Do HFCS Contribute More To Protein Carbonylation?
written by jay , July 04, 2012

What matter most is what well designed, long-term studies tell us? I'd like to see if HFCS vs sugar makes a significant difference in levels of protein carbonylation within cells of liver, adipose, muscle and nervous system. Wonder if such studies have already been performed with mice & rats?
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Funny business
written by John Rutnik , July 27, 2011

It seems like the argument that the two sugars are the same starts with sugar in the blood stream. But corn starch passes straight through the gut reaching the blood stream faster and in higher quantity.
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somthing must be happening
written by the dude , May 27, 2011

well most food has HFCS in it.. Most of America wasn't fat before this happened... HMMM
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Incomplete summaries from both doctors
written by tim , February 10, 2011

The first doctor is just being silly or is ignorant. The act of separating glucose from fructose (breaking down sucrose) takes a minimal amount of energy and doesnt make it superior to HFCS. Sucrose is still a very simple sugar and is half fructose. After sucrose is broken down it is equivalent to HFCS (within a few percentages).

The second dr is right but he just doesnt explain beyond the minimum, which is unfortunate. Molecule for molecule HFCS and sugar will have similar effects BUT, HFCS is in everything because its cheap and makes things taste better (and low fat!). HFCS is the cause of obesity, but sucrose would also be the cause too if it was in such abundance in everything that's made. So just keep that in mind. If you find something that replaces HFCS in equal amounts with sugar you should not consider it better. Reduce your simple sugar intake and you cant go wrong.

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American Medical Association would benefit; Dr. Rippe bias; tax dollars
written by Zebe , December 05, 2010

The American Medical Association benefits from the obesity and diabetes epidemics. No wonder they want people to eat high fructose corn syrup fast foods. Some day this time will be known as the Fast Food Holocaust because of the many millions who will die slow sick deaths.
Also, if Doctor Rippe is receiving income and providing propaganda from the Corn Processors Association, how can he even be considered as a non-biased opinion? What about having a doctor who is not affiliated with the corn industry speak up for high fructose corn poison (correction: syrup).
In addition, I and others don't want our tax dollars going to subsidies that benefit companies like Archer Daniels Midland--who in turn use the money to pay lobbyists who hire doctors like Dr. Rippe to tell us in so many words to "shut up and just eat it."
To Dr. Rippe: Dr. Rippe, there is not a thing you can say over and over and over again that will make me eat that stuff.
Using the benefit of my tax dollars to try to tell me how to eat just makes me want to exercise my freedom of choice even more--and to encourage others to eat healthier, too.

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written by Luke Patterson , November 18, 2009

The Rutgers study showed that the carbonyls were not present in the blood of those who drank sucrose sweeetened drinks, but they were present in HFCS sweetened drinks. What is artificial about that? Please describe.

I would like to see some citations from Dr. Rippe on the assertion that the carbonyls from HFCS are "less reactive" than those from other products and that "almost none are absorbed in the human body."

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