High Fructose-Corn Syrup vs. Sugar: What You Need To Know
More and more people are choosing to nix high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) from their diets, switching to other types of sugar instead. But is there a difference between HFCS and other sugar types? This guide from Sweetkick explains it all.
What Is High-Fructose Corn Syrup?
True to its name, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is made from corn.
Without delving too deeply into the production process, HFCS is made by taking some parts of corn and turning it into a syrup — which is nearly 100 percent glucose. (For a reminder on what glucose is, check out our article.)
This syrup is then refined and filtered into a liquid mixture that's typically 55 percent fructose. The remainder is mixed in with a high-glucose sweetener.
The label “high-fructose” can be a bit misleading. After all, other sweeteners (such as agave syrup) have a much higher fructose content — as high as 80 percent. But compared to regular corn syrup, the high-fructose version is higher in fructose — hence its name.
This is a crucial distinction because the higher the fructose content, the worse the effects of a sweetener.
So, when you compare it to other sweeteners, HFCS can potentially be much worse for your health.
How Do High-Fructose Corn Syrup and Sugar Differ?
Technically speaking, “sugar” refers to a certain type of molecule. It’s quite small, so it’s easy for your body to break down. While this may give you a quick burst of energy, it won’t satisfy hunger and doesn’t have the nutritional value of fat or protein.
There are many types of sugar. There’s white table sugar or sucrose, which we know too well, but there’s also coconut sugar, turbinado sugar, natural sugar like honey and maple syrup, and artificial sweeteners like aspartame. These sugar types have many differences between them.
This makes it hard to compare high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) to “sugar.” That said, when it comes to many types of sugar, HFCS is probably the worst choice.
In the following section, we’ll explain exactly why that is.
Why Should You Avoid High-Fructose Corn Syrup?
1. It Adds Unnatural Amounts of Fructose to Your Diet
High-fructose corn syrup tends to be higher in fructose than many natural sweeteners, such as honey. Compared to glucose, the fructose molecule is not the body’s preferred carbohydrate source.
The body easily utilizes glucose molecules for energy. When you eat something high in glucose, your body releases certain hormones that “deliver” glucose into the cells.
On the other hand, fructose needs to be converted into glucose because it can be used. Usually, it is stored in the liver before it can be used as fuel.
While fruit contains some amounts of fructose, it’s in normal amounts that the body can process. This is not the case with HFCS, which is why it should be avoided.
2. It Increases Your Risk of Fatty Liver Disease
A high fructose intake can increase how much fat your liver stores.
When someone eats too much fructose, large quantities of this molecule can reach the liver. The liver then uses excess fructose to create fat. Over time, this can lead someone to develop nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
This is not to say that eating fruit can lead to fatty liver disease. Fruits are full of fiber and other beneficial compounds that can protect someone against this condition. So, it’s not surprising that researchers haven’t found any link between fruit consumption and fatty liver.
On the other hand, there is a strong association between HFCS consumption (such as in those who frequently consume soft drinks) and fatty liver. In addition, HFCS can trigger an immune response that leads to increased inflammation, making this chronic health condition even worse.
3. It Increases Your Risk of Obesity
Honestly, any type of sugar can increase weight gain. Sugar is mostly empty calories, so you’ll be hungry immediately after eating something sweet. Plus, it triggers cravings, making you eat more than you normally would.
But there’s something unique about high-fructose corn syrup that makes it so bad for managing a healthy weight.
First, fructose may not turn off your brain’s “cravings” in the same way as glucose can. At least with glucose, having something sweet can be mildly satisfying. But with fructose consumption, your brain may not even register that you’ve had dessert, leading to almost immediate cravings.
Fructose can also make you gain weight around the belly area — and specifically around your organs. This is the worst way to gain weight because it increases general inflammation in the body, raising your risk for all kinds of diseases.
4. It May Change Your Microbiome
Your microbiome refers to the trillions of tiny bacteria in your digestive tract. Having lots of healthy bacteria is good for all aspects of your health, from digestion to mood. But what happens if you have more “bad” bacteria than normal?
Some bad gut bacteria are linked to serious conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease. Plus, they can lead to mood changes, increasing your risk of anxiety and depression.
HFCS can alter the gut microbiome in negative ways. One study found that women who consumed large amounts of high fructose corn syrup had much higher levels of unhealthy gut bacteria than those who got their sugar from fruit.
5. It Can Drive Inflammation
HFCS has been shown to increase inflammation in the body, increasing your risk of many health problems. This ranges from acne to high blood pressure to metabolic syndrome.
HFCS may also bind to healthy proteins in your body and create harmful molecules called advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which (true to their acronym) can accelerate aging.
Last, HFCS can increase uric acid production, a waste product normally found in the blood. This, in turn, may exacerbate inflammation in the body.
It’s Best To Avoid Sugar Entirely
Hopefully, we’ve convinced you to avoid high-fructose corn syrup.
But honestly, it’s best to avoid all added sugars. Yes, natural options like honey may be slightly better for you than HFCS, but they’re far from being good for you.
Any type of sugar can lead to rapid insulin spikes, increase cravings, and make you eat more than normal — without providing much nutrition.
If you must eat sugar, it’s best in its natural form. Starchy tubers, crisp apples, juicy berries — you get the gist.
But considering that your body’s sugar needs are close to zero, don’t feel obligated to squeeze even the natural types of sugar into your diet.
And if you’re craving a sweet treat, then Sweetkick’s Clusters have the perfect blend of nuts, seeds, and whole superfoods that nourish you from head to toe.
Beat Your Sugar Addiction With Sweetkick
High-fructose corn syrup tends to be higher in fructose than other sweeteners. This makes it bad for pretty much anything that has to do with your health. But to be honest, regular sugar isn’t much better.
So, our advice is to reduce added sugars in your diet.
If you have a serious sweet tooth, Sweetkick can help. Our products are designed to help you beat sugar cravings — so you can live a low-sugar lifestyle without an ounce of regret.
No association between fruits or vegetables and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in middle-aged men and women | NCBI
How high fructose intake may trigger fatty liver disease | National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity | The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Fructose-Induced Intestinal Microbiota Shift Following Two Types of Short-Term High-Fructose Dietary Phases | PMC