6 Ways High Fructose Corn Syrup Can Destroy Your Health

Medically reviewed by Sunni Newman, Registered Nurse Sunni Newman Sunni NewmanRegistered Nurse facebook_icon
Written by , BSc, Professional Certificate in Food, Nutrition and Health Ravi Teja Tadimalla BSc, Professional Certificate in Food, Nutrition and Health Experience: 8 years
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Did you know that breakfast cereal or bread could be laced with high fructose corn syrup? What’s the big deal with HFCS? Well, obesity rates in the US skyrocketed during the very same time consumption of high fructose corn syrup increased (1). Now, does this mean something? Let’s find out.

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What Is High Fructose Corn Syrup?

Also known as glucose-fructose syrup, HFCS is a sweetener made from corn starch1. It is made by breaking down this starch into a syrup made of sugar glucose. Manufacturers add enzymes to this sugar glucose, converting some of the glucose into fructose. The end product is HFCS that tastes much sweeter.

In terms of the ratio of fructose to glucose, HFCS is similar to table sugar (both contain 4 calories per gram). But as HFCS is cheaper than sugar, brands prefer it to the latter. Also, HFCS does not contain any artificial ingredients or additives and hence meets the FDA’s requirements for being termed as natural (2).

In addition to its sweetening properties, HFCS also helps keep foods fresh, retains moisture in breakfast bars and cereals, promotes surface browning, and enhances spice and fruit flavors. Now you know why HFCS is preferred to sugar. But how can HFCS be so bad?

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How Can HFCS Be Bad For You?

High fructose corn syrup adds unnatural amounts of fructose to your diet, and this can cause problems. Dietary fructose is widely believed to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease (1).

Evidence also suggests that excess fructose can contribute to metabolic disorder (3).

Intake of excess sugar or HFCS can also lead to obesity in the long run, as per studies (4). This is because HFCS contributes to added sugars and calories.

There are other ways HFCS can cause harm. We will look at those now.

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What Are The Side Effects Of High Fructose Corn Syrup?

1. Can Lead To Weight Gain

Studies show that long-term intake of HFCS can cause characteristics of obesity, more so with an increase in adipose fat in the abdominal region. Intake of HFCS had also increased the amount of circulating triglyceride levels (5).

Diets rich in fructose were found to show greater incidences of weight gain. Access to high concentrations of fructose may also trigger overconsumption, thereby leading to weight gain. This happens as fructose activates hunger signals and suppresses satiety signals (6).

2. May Contribute To Cancer

Excessive fructose consumption has been associated with various forms of cancer. The fructose in HFCS can trigger inflammation and the production of reactive oxygen species, thereby increasing cancer risk (7).

Dietary fructose was also found to promote cancer growth. It achieves this by inducing direct DNA damage and, as already discussed, by increasing the amount of reactive oxygen species in the body system (8).

3. Increases Diabetes Risk

Statistics show that diabetes prevalence was 20% higher in nations with higher availability of HFCS. These effects are independent of obesity (9).

Fructose intake in humans has been associated with an increased accumulation of visceral fat, decreased insulin sensitivity, and impairment in the regulation of blood fats (10).

4. May Cause Heart Disease

Studies have suggested a possible link between HFCS and cardiovascular disease. Excess intake of fructose leads to a shortfall of several essential nutrients, and this can lead to cardiovascular disease (11).

Excess fructose intake can also increase blood uric acid levels. This can contribute to endothelial dysfunction and increase the risk of hypertension – another possible contributor to cardiovascular disease (12). Rats fed with a high-fructose diet had increased levels of total cholesterol levels.

5. Can Cause Leaky Gut

Leaky gut is nothing but increased intestinal permeability – where the proteins, bacteria, and other undigested particles pass on into your bloodstream. Food processing, especially with additives like high fructose corn syrup, has been linked to increased intestinal permeability (13).

6. May Lead To Liver Disease

May Lead To Liver Disease
Image: Shutterstock

Intake of beverages containing high fructose corn syrup was associated with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Especially in animals, fructose ingestion was found to cause fatty liver disease rapidly (14).

Other early clinical studies suggest that reducing total fructose intake can lower liver fat accumulation (15).

This is how high fructose corn syrup can wreak havoc on your health. But you can avoid the issues – by staying away from foods containing high fructose corn syrup.

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Which Foods Contain High Fructose Corn Syrup?

Please make it a habit of reading the ingredient labels before you purchase any food items. The following foods can contain high fructose corn syrup:

  • Soda
  • Sweetened yogurt
  • Candies
  • Frozen junk foods
  • Salad dressing
  • Canned fruit
  • Juice
  • Breakfast cereal
  • Granola bars
  • Sauces
  • Condiments
  • Cereal and nutrition bars
  • Energy/Sports drinks
  • Ice cream
  • Boxed dinners
  • Jam
  • Jelly
  • Some types of breads

You may want to avoid any of these foods that contain HFCS on their nutrition labels. You can instead look for these healthy alternative sweeteners, including:

  • Raw honey
  • Maple syrup
  • Stevia
  • Coconut sugar
  • Banana puree
  • Dates
  • Blackstrap molasses


Saying high fructose corn syrup is harmful would be an understatement. Studies show its detrimental effects. Hence, we recommend you steer clear of foods that contain HFCS.

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Anything else about HFCS you think we have missed? Do let us know by leaving a comment in the box below.

Frequently Asked Questions

How is corn syrup different from high fructose corn syrup?

The similarity is that both are made from corn starch. Where they differ is regular corn syrup is 100% glucose, while HFCS has some of its glucose converted to fructose through enzymes.

How is high fructose corn syrup different from sugar?

Both are similar, more or less, in terms of their nutritional content. Both contain glucose and fructose in nearly equal amounts. They differ in terms of their chemical structure – while the fructose and glucose are not bound together in HFCS, in sugar, they are.
But the two are broken down in the digestive system in the same way.

What foods don’t contain HFCS?

Fruits and veggies, nuts, grains, legumes, lean meat, and seafood.


  1. Corn starch – A carbohydrate extracted from the endosperm of corn.


  1. Health implications of fructose consumption…” Nutrition & Metabolism, US National Library of Medicine.
  2. High fructose corn syrup” ScienceDirect.
  3. Consuming fructose-sweetened, not glucose-sweetened…” The Journal of Clinical Investigation, US National Library of Medicine.
  4. Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in…” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, US National Library of Medicine.
  5. High-fructose corn syrup causes…” Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior, US National Library of Medicine.
  6. Effects of sucrose, glucose and fructose…” Regulatory Peptides, US National Library of Medicine.
  7. The role of fructose in metabolism and cancer” Hormone molecular biology and clinical investigation, US National Library of Medicine.
  8. Simple sugar intake and hepatocellular carcinoma…” Nutrients, US National Library of Medicine.
  9. High fructose corn syrup and diabetes…” Global Public Health, US National Library of Medicine.
  10. Fructose consumption: recent results and their…” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, US National Library of Medicine.
  11. Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular…” Circulation, US National Library of Medicine.
  12. Fructose-containing sugars and cardiovascular…” Advances in Nutrition, US National Library of Medicine.
  13. Possible links between intestinal…” Clinics, US National Library of Medicine.
  14. Carbohydrate intake and nonalcoholic…” Hepatobiliary Surgery and Nutrition, US National Library of Medicine.
  15. Fructose and sugar: A major mediator…” Journal of Hepatology, US National Library of Medicine.
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Sunni Newman
Sunni NewmanBSc (Nursing)
Sunni has 15 years of experience as a registered nurse. She is passionate about helping people live healthier, balanced lives. She graduated from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in 2012 with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and began working as a registered nurse in Dallas at Baylor Medical Center and later in Austin at the Austin Heart cardiac clinic.

Read full bio of Sunni Newman
Ravi Teja Tadimalla
Ravi Teja TadimallaSenior Editor
Ravi Teja Tadimalla is a senior editor and a published author. He has been in the digital media field for over eight years. He graduated from SRM University, Chennai, and has a Professional Certificate in Food, Nutrition & Research from Wageningen University.

Read full bio of Ravi Teja Tadimalla
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