We all know that sugar intake should be limited in general, but people seem to look on high fructose corn syrup especially poorly. Why is it any worse than sucrose? Crystalline fructose? Other sweeteners such as stevia or aspartame?

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    Stevia is not an artificial sweetener, it's a plant extract. Mar 2, 2011 at 5:49
  • There are countless things we eat, drink or do that are bad. Why pick on this specific ingredient? Besides, what is considered bad? Will it kill you, have negative long term effects or 'ruin your skin'?
    – Ivo Flipse
    Mar 3, 2011 at 16:59
  • @anothem - Yup, didn't mean to word it that way. Fixed.
    – goric
    Mar 3, 2011 at 23:15
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    @anothem (I voted +1 on your comment, but for pedant's sake...) Technically, aren't HFCS (corn) and sucrose (cane or beet) also plant extracts? :-)
    – G__
    Mar 4, 2011 at 1:19
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    Read this princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S26/91/22K07. While there's no conclusive proof of why HFCS is worse, it has been proven in studies to show an increased rate of obesity vs a sugar based diet. I would argue that HFCS isn't really any more processed than table sugar (both are pretty highly processed). The reason it's used in processed foods is it's so much cheaper to produce (due to the overabundance and subsidized production of corn in the US). Either way, living on a diet that has an overabundance of either HFCS or sugar isn't really good for you. Mar 29, 2011 at 15:17

4 Answers 4


I think research is inconclusive on this matter, I don't believe there has been consistent scientific proof that HFCS is as bad as it was blamed to be recently.

Aspartame is also similar. While generally seen as "bad", research seems to suggest otherwise. I personally avoid it, just to be safe.

On a personal level, I think that as long as you have a fairly healthy diet (without too much "processed" food in it), you should be perfectly safe from these sweeteners whether or not they're "the devil". If you are, on the other hand, eating a lot of processed stuff, sweeteners are probably not the main issue with that type of diet.

  • I agree with this, except I would say that sweeteners are a significant portion of the main issue since they are added to nearly all processed foods. Mar 3, 2011 at 16:08

HFCS is usually 55% fructose and 42% glucose, while sucrose is 50% glucose and 50% fructose molecule - this is why HFCS is slightly sweeter.

Glucose can be used as energy in every cell in the body, while fructose, like ethanol, must be metabolized in the liver. Fructose in nature is fairly rare (small quantities in fruits, packaged in lots of fiber) so it is not surprising that the liver is not prepared to process the large quantities of fructose in our current western diet.

While HFCS is not in itself worse than sugar, its low cost (made from subsidized corn instead of highly taxed sugar canes) makes it very attractive for food manufacturers to put HFCS into everything - soda, milk, sauces, bread, you name it.

So, instead of ingesting a few grams of fructose, many people on a western diet now ingest several ounces, and that, depending on who you ask, is bad, very bad, or the single leading cause of the obesity epidemic.

Other sweeteners are not sugars; if they're harmful, they're harmful in completely different, incomparable ways.

For more information about the metabolism of sugar, see: Sugar: The Bitter Truth

  • +1 for the awesome video, and including the cost factors of sweeteners. Nutrition does have a lot economics behind it.
    – user241
    Mar 26, 2011 at 23:07

Fructose (the substance enzymatically produced from sucrose in the production of high fructose corn syrup) is found naturally in fruits, vegetables, and grains. As with any sweetener, eating too much of it will naturally raise the amount of carbohydrates in your diet and upset the natural way in which the body expects to be nourished.

The only difference in the two is that fructose is absorbed into the body slightly faster than sucrose, meaning that eating excessive amounts of fructose will yield slightly more weight gain than sucrose over a shorter period of time, but will have little to no relative effect over the long term: if you overeat, whether it's sucrose, fructose, or fat, you'll gain weight. Period.

Much of the processed and "fast" foods now contain added sugar or high fructose corn syrup for seasoning purposes, and those foods which have been artificially sweetened should be avoided generally. It is always healthier to eat natural foods in their raw form.

Calorie free sweeteners and sugar alcohols are a matter of debate, and from studies conducted seem to largely depend on how an individual responds to them.

  • The body metabolizes HFCS and sucrose in much the same way since both consist of fructose and glucose. The glucose component is separated from the fructose component in the gut. The glucose is then available to be metabolized by any cell in the body. However, the fructose is only metabolized by the liver. The liver synthesizes glycogen until the liver glycogen stores are re-filled; and after that it synthesizes tri-glycerides (fat). I only have 133 characters left, so here's a wikipedia link for a start... goo.gl/3LNxz
    – wdypdx22
    Jun 8, 2011 at 19:32

High fructose corn syrup has gone through processing to turn some of the glucose into fructose which makes it about 3x sweeter. The big difference is how the body metabolizes and stores the two. Fructose goes right to the belly which gives you a better chance of heart attack and stroke.

Some studies have even found trace amounts of mercury in high fructose corn syrup.

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    Every study I've read on HFCS has found that there is no significant difference in the manner in which the body metabolizes HFCS and how it metabolizes standard table sugar - please cite a source. The body stores fat where the body wants to store fat - again would like to see a source. Being overweight in general increases the chances of heart attack or stroke. The two are not directly linked as you imply. Mar 3, 2011 at 15:43
  • If by "belly" you mean liver... then you're right. ;-) Fructose is unique in that it can only be metabolized by the liver (which interferes with its other functions). Agree with @md5sum that a better reference than "some studies" would make this a stronger answer.
    – G__
    Mar 8, 2011 at 23:25

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