Monday, October 1, 2012

Is high fructose corn syrup actually bad for you?

I don't typically eat cold cereal for breakfast, but recently I was staying with some friends where the only gluten free option (I have celiacs) was this box of cereal:

It was pretty tasty. I don't think I've had sugary cereal like that since I was a pretty young kid.

The funny thing is that if you just read the marketing on the box, you'd think it was a super food. Here's a sampling of what the box says:

  • Gluten free
  • All natural
  • No artificial flavors
  • No hydrogentated oils
  • Every bite powers wind energy
  • No High Fructose Corn Syrup
I think it also said something about being a smart choice for healthy kids ...

Anyway, this isn't a post about food marketing. I bring it up only because it demonstrates what buzz words are popular.

The buzz word that piqued my interest while I was staring at the box enjoying "real cocoa" for breakfast was the no high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) pitch. I already mentioned that the cereal is sugary. In fact, 46% of each bite is sugar! So obviously the pitch wasn't intended to say that the cereal wasn't sweet but that it didn't have the evil sweetener HFCS. By the way, this was not the first time I'd heard about how evil HFCS is ... many of my very close relations share this view.

It just so happened that on the same trip I was reading Dr. Walter Willet's (nutrition prof at Harvard) book Eat, Drink and Be Healthy.  It's a summary of the last few decades of nutritional research. Amidst decrying the food pyramid and food policy in America, he states that a sugar is a sugar is a sugar. Specifically, he says that HFCS is no worse than any other sugar. He bases his argument on the fact that HFCS is about 50% fructose and 50% sucrose - the same as other sweeteners like table sugar, honey, and agave syrup. He says we should be avoiding all sweeteners as much as possible, and that if you want something sweet, eat an apple. At least that way you'll get some other important nutrients with your dose of sugar. He's not the only scientist to take this stand.

I should point out that some research is emerging that suggests that fructose may be an especially bad sort of sugar, but doesn't that mean that a lot of common sweeteners should be avoided not just HFCS?

Anyway, I think most scientists would agree that avoiding HFCS is a good thing (you'd end up avoiding a bunch of really bad packaged food that way) ... but they'd agree because it's a sweetener, not because it's especially evil.

But if we're just substituting HFCS for other sweeteners there doesn't seem to be a lot of evidence that we're any better off. Can I really eat my Crispy Cocoa Rice guilt free? If you believe that HFCS is more evil than other sweeteners, why?


  1. Yes you're right. Not only high fructose corn syrup but some sweeteners too. I think stevia is the most recommended sweetener.

  2. Opiat addiction went up at the same time, are you one of those people they’re talking about, with no education? Luckily I know how to write my paper, as I received decent education.