Is high-fructose corn syrup healthy or harmful?

Posted on Nov 8, 2008 in Health & Wellness

Perhaps you’ve seen the commercials promoting high-fructose corn syrup. One mom tells another that it’s okay to serve her kids sweet punch by the pitcherful. A young woman explains to her skeptical boyfriend there’s no problem in eating a sugar-laden popsicle once in a while. Does this mean that the controversial sweetener is actually good for you?

The ads, part of a $20 million advertising blitz by the Corn Refiners Association (CRA), are meant to revamp the image of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which has received a bad rap in recent years thanks to its links to obesity and weight gain. But now, the CRA says HFCS is a sweet choice when it comes to food, with no more impact on obesity than sugar or honey.

Though it’s prevalent in popular products like sodas, cereals, and even some breads, HFCS has lost its luster among most Americans. In fact, its use has declined over the past 10 years, with many people favoring sugar or artificial sweeteners like Splenda.

But with their new ad campaign, the CRA takes issue with these claims, expressing that HFCS does not contribute to obesity any more than sugar or other caloric sweeteners. The American Medical Association (AMA) supports this stance, further stating that “there is insufficient evidence to restrict the use of high fructose corn syrup or label products that contain it with a warning.”


Is high-fructose corn syrup a “natural” choice?
The CRA also says that HFCS is a natural product because it is derived from corn. Though this seems like an attempt to jump on the natural foods bandwagon, the CRA gained some clout in July when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that that since no synthetic fixing agents are used to create the sweet syrup, it can indeed be considered natural. (This coming after a prior statement discrediting the all-natural label). Still, skeptics shun the “natural” idea, citing that HFCS cannot be considered natural, as it’s so heavily processed. The debate roars on.
Moderation is the key to all sweetener consumption
If HFCS isn’t so bad for you, how much of the sweet stuff should you consume? Like any sweetener, moderation in key as too much can lead to a host of health problems including dental cavities, osteoporosis, vitamin and mineral deficiencies and, of course, weight gain. Experts recommend limiting your “added sugar” intake to less than 12 daily teaspoons. And keep in mind that a single can of soda alone contains about 13 teaspoons.

To avoid a sugar or HFCS overload, try satisfying your sweet tooth with fresh fruit or fruit canned in its own juices as opposed to heavy syrup. And instead of soda, add a spritz of lemon or lime juice to your seltzer water, or opt for 100 percent fruit juice over fruit-flavored drinks.