Does High Fructose Corn Syrup cause Diabetes/Cancer/Purple Pimples?

High Fructose Corn Syrup must be the most vilified food ingredient of the current millennium. A cheap alternative to sugar, HFCS has found its way into soft drinks, candy, bread, sauces, and thousands of other products over the past 30 years. At the same time, obesity rates in the US have skyrocketed. While some will draw a direct connecting line, most serious studies don’t pin obesity on just this one ingredient.

And yet, every once in a while we read about HFCS causing a new disease.We’ve written about links to diabetes, mercury poisoning, and now – cancer!

The latest headlines pertain to pancreatic cancer cells thriving in the presence of fructose. Note: fructose, not HFCS. And yet the anti-HFCS camp instantly translates this to another reason to avoid HFCS. Never mind the fructose found in regular table sugar, or in fruit, or the “healthy” agave nectar.

Truth of the matter is that HFCS is just as bad for us as sugar. Is sugar bad?

The answer depends on how much you consume. If you take in added sugars like most Americans, then you are consuming too much. Way too much.

So the best advice is to cut your consumption of added sugars, regardless of their ingredient source.

What to do at the supermarket:

Read the nutrition facts panel to learn how much sugar is in the product you are about to buy. Every 4 grams of sugar equals one teaspoon.

For example – 12 grams in a kid’s cereal equals 3 teaspoons of sugar. That’s a lot of sweet before 9am!

For those looking for the most bang for their buck – The easiest way to reduce your added sugar intake is to skip the beverage aisle in the supermarket altogether.

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  • Ed Bruske

    Sugar, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup: they are all the same on a molecular level and are metabolized in exactly the same manner in the body. The problem is, they are all toxic as far as your liver is concerned. The effects are very much the same as drinking alcohol. For a great primer on this, watch this video with Robert Lustig, a professor of pediatrics in the endocrinology department of the University of California San Francisco.

  • Nour El-Zibdeh, RD

    Great blog! I just posted this morning a blog post about sugars and got a little bit into fructose. I have to disagree with your Ed, I’m sorry. Fructose, which is found in HFCS, table sugar, fruits, agave, and honey, and glucose are not the same on the molecular level. They are absorbed differently and digested differently. Fructose doesn’t stimulate insulin and it goes directly to the liver. Now, the liver makes triglycerides and cholesterol, so when it gets too much fructose that we don’t need for energy, it starts making these fatty compounds. The key word here is “too much” fructose.

    Regardless of that, all types of sugar, even the so called “healthy” agave, are not healthy and should be limited in the diet to the minimum. The problem with HFCS and all sugars really is they show up everywhere. In your drinks, cereals, salad dressings, condiments, sauces, etc, and to cut back, we really have to go back to basics and make our foods from scratch as much as we can.

  • Ken Leebow

    Re: While some will draw a direct connecting line, most serious studies don’t pin obesity on just this one ingredient.

    HFCS is definitely not the cause of obesity. It’s just a piece of the pie. The cause is our environment. I recommend searching out Dr. David Katz’s presentation about the Polar Bear in the Sahara Desert.

    In regard to Dr. Lustig, I do believe he specifically points to HFCS as being poison. If you can sit through it, it is an enlightening 1 1/2 hour presentation.

  • Kimberly


    Dr. Lustig points to fructose as a poison, not specifically HFCS. In fact, he goes out of his way to explain how similar HFCS and table sugar (sucrose) are. [HFCS is generally 55% fructose, 45% glucose, where as sucrose is 50% fructose, 50% glucose.]

  • Stan

    One thing I’ve been convinced of… sugar in any form contributes way more to heart disease than saturated fat.

  • kc

    “HFCS is just as bad for us as sugar”

    Actually, “sugar” (which I interpret to mean cane sugar) is a sweetener made from an actual food crop and HFCS is a sweetener made from an inedible genetically modified crop. The two are not equal. Pure, unrefined cane sugar is no health food and should be limited in our diet, but high fructose corn syrup has no business being a part of our diet, ever.

  • Kab

    Here’s the deal. Let’s get this straight. HFCS is bad for you. Ya know what it causes? Drop dead cancer. Are these people trying to kill us? Gosh they’re drop dead stupid. Don’t know what presidents talking about keeping people safe while they’re putting HFCS in your drinks and food. I mean duh!? Crazy people. Well I’m out and just to let you know, don’t eat or drink a lot of HFCS, unless you want to die. Bye!

  • spanner48

    To inject some basic science: glucose, fructose and sucrose (cane or beet sugar) are NOT metabolically the same. Sucrose [C10 H22 O11] consists of a glucose [C6 H12 O6] and a fructose [C6 H10 O5] molecule. Sucrose is broken down into these constituents by sucrase, both in the stomach and the small intestine. This takes time.
    By contrast glucose and fructose are made available for absorption and circulation in the blood almost instantaneously. The result is a shorter, more intense ”Sugar High” – followed by the corresponding ”Sugar Low” afterwards.
    Medical evidence is building that these intense highs challenge the body’s insulin response, and predispose frequent consumers to Type 2 diabetes.
    Companies such as Coca Cola – who cleverly moved their US sweetening from cane sugar to [cheaper] HFCS during the ”New Coke” episode – are [how shall I put it?] less than enthusiastic about allowing publication of this research . . . .

  • LarryOldtimer

    Try the simple expedient of getting lots of healthy exercise. Idleness is what is toxic to the body.

  • Dreilin

    Okay – you cannot trivialize the way that chemicals work in the body…it isn’t JUST fructose like you find in fruit and other naturally occuring foods. I am assuming, by the name, that HIGH fructose corn syrup means that the parts of fructose are large – who knows. Also, the combination with the corn bi-products with the sugars causes a completely different compound to form and the common person (myself included) has no idea what this does – i am tired of the general population saying it is solely personal responsibility to stay healthy when well over 80% of the groceries and 100% of easy food products are on the market with terrible ingredients that we don’t have enough research to say that they are in fact, long term, a detriment to us….even when we do know that they are bad, like the carcinogens (TBHQ), and most of the fats that common products use – the FDA allows them in small doses in our food….I have to spend so much time reading labels because of all the crap that they try to pass off as food – please stop trivializing the issue – it isn’t that simple!

  • JC Harris

    I think the point here is that sugar molecules are 50/50 in sucrose and fructose, while HFCS is 55-45 Fructose to Sucrose. So it IS different. Along with that, these molecules are not chained so there is no digestion needed, meaning it hits the liver immediately. High fructose levels, no digestive need = BAD. This has NO business being in the food we eat.