High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is an artificial sugar made from corn syrup.
Here are 6 reasons why consuming large amounts of high-fructose corn syrup is bad for your health.
1. Adds an unnatural amount of fructose to your diet
The fructose in HFCS can cause health issues if eaten in excessive amounts.
Most starchy carbs, such as rice, are broken down into glucose⁠ — the basic form of carbs. However, table sugar and HFCS comprise around 50% glucose and 50% fructose (
Glucose is easily transported and utilized by every cell in your body. It's also the predominant fuel source for high-intensity exercise and various processes.
In contrast, the fructose from high fructose corn syrup or table sugar needs to be converted into glucose, glycogen (stored carbs), or fat by the liver before it can be used as fuel.
Like regular table sugar, HFCS is a rich source of fructose. In the past few decades, the intake of fructose and HFCS has increased significantly.
Before table sugar and HFCS became affordable and widely available, people’s diets contained only small amounts of fructose from natural sources, such as fruits and vegetables (
The adverse effects listed below are mostly caused by excess fructose, although they apply to both high-fructose corn syrup (55% fructose) and plain table sugar (50% fructose).
Summary HFCS and sugar contain fructose and glucose. Your body metabolizes fructose differently than glucose, and consuming too much fructose can lead to health problems.
2. Increases your risk of fatty liver disease
High intake of fructose leads to increased liver fat.
One study in men and women with excess weight showed that drinking sucrose-sweetened soda for 6 months significantly increased liver fat, compared to drinking milk, diet soda, or water (
Other research has also found that fructose can increase liver fat to a greater extent than equal amounts of glucose (
It’s important to note that the detrimental effects of fructose in added sugar, including HFCS, should not be equated with the fructose in fruit. It’s difficult to consume excessive amounts of fructose from whole fruits, which are healthy and safe in sensible amounts.
Summary High-fructose corn syrup can contribute to increased liver fat. This is because of its high fructose content, which is metabolized differently than other carbs.
3. Increases your risk of obesity and weight gain
One study had healthy adults drink beverages containing either glucose or fructose.
When comparing the two groups, the fructose drink did not stimulate regions of the brain that control appetite to the same extent as the glucose drink (
Moreover, the availability of HFCS and sugar has also increased average daily calorie intake, a key factor in weight gain. Research suggests people now consume over 500 calories per day from sugar, on average, which may be 300% more than 50 years ago (
Summary Research continues to highlight the role of high-fructose corn syrup and fructose in obesity. It can also add visceral fat, a harmful type of fat that surrounds your organs.
4. Excessive intake is linked to diabetes
In healthy people, insulin increases in response to the consumption of carbs, transporting them out of the bloodstream and into cells.
However, regularly consuming excess fructose can make your body resistant to insulin's effects (
This decreases your body’s ability to control blood sugar levels. Over the long term, both insulin and blood sugar levels increase.
In addition to diabetes, HFCS may play a role in metabolic syndrome, which has been linked to many diseases, including heart disease and certain cancers (
Summary Excessive intake of high-fructose corn syrup can lead to insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, which are both key contributors to type 2 diabetes and many other serious diseases.
5. Can increase the risk of other serious diseases
Many serious diseases have been linked to the overconsumption of fructose.
HFCS and sugar have been shown to drive inflammation, which is associated with an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
Considering all of the health issues and diseases linked to the excessive intake of HFCS and sugar, it may come as no surprise that studies are starting to link them to an increased risk of heart disease and reduced life expectancy (
Summary Excessive HFCS intake is linked to an increased risk of numerous diseases, including heart disease.
6. Contains no essential nutrients
Like other added sugars, high fructose corn syrup is "empty" calories.
While it contains plenty of calories, it offers no essential nutrients.
Thus, eating HFCS will decrease the total nutrient content of your diet, as the more HFCS you consume, the less room you have for nutrient-dense foods.
The bottom line
Over the past few decades, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has become affordable and widely available.
Experts now attribute its excessive intake to many serious health issues, including obesity, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome, among others.
Avoiding high-fructose corn syrup — and added sugar in general — may be one of the most effective ways to improve your health and lower your risk of disease.