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High Fructose Corn Syrup

Medically reviewed by Carmen Pope, BPharm. Last updated on Oct 5, 2022.

Excipient (pharmacologically inactive substance)

What is it?

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a common liquid sweetening agent made from corn starch. It makes foods taste sweet, and manufacturers use it because it is less expensive than sugar, has a better flavor, and a longer shelf life.

How is high fructose corn syrup made?

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is made from corn starch (also called cornflour) which is the white powdery substance extracted from corn kernels. Corn starch is essentially long strands of glucose molecules joined together and when broken down this yields corn syrup which is 100% glucose. Enzymes are then added to convert some of this glucose into fructose.

How common is high fructose corn syrup?

High-fructose corn syrup is found in many commercially prepared foods or sweetened drinks. It was introduced in the 1970s and its use peaked in the early 2000s with it making up about 10% of the average American’s daily calories. In the last decade, there has been a decline in popularity because of the negativity surrounding HFCS and the increased cost of corn. Some large companies have removed it from their products.

  • HFCS may still be found in:
  • Why is high fructose corn syrup bad for you?

    Just like table sugar, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is high in calories but low in nutrients. We now eat a lot more sweetened food than we did 100 years ago and too much sugar of any kind (not just HFCS) contributes to unwanted calories that are associated with weight gain, type 2 diabetes, liver disease, high triglyceride levels, and a higher risk of heart disease as well as many other conditions.

    Few studies have looked at the impact HFCS has on people, but there are a few studies investigating its impact on laboratory animals. These do show some detrimental effects; however, the amount of fructose used was higher than that contained in HFCS, and animals have a different make-up to humans so the results may not be transferable. But we do know that our liver has to convert fructose into glucose before it can be utilized as an energy source and too much fructose causes a fatty liver. It is too early to say if our bodies handle HFCS any differently to table sugar. Countries that use HFCS tend to have higher levels of diabetes than those that don’t.

    Table sugar is made up of 50% fructose and 50% glucose which is very similar in composition to HFCS (the 2 most common forms contain either 42% fructose and 58% glucose or 55% fructose and 45% glucose).


    Further information

    Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.