High fructose corn syrup

"HFCS" redirects here. It is not to be confused with HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons).
High fructose corn syrup
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 1,176 kJ (281 kcal)
76 g
Dietary fiber 0 g
0 g
0 g
Riboflavin (B2)

0.019 mg

Niacin (B3)

0 mg

Pantothenic acid (B5)

0.011 mg

Vitamin B6

0.024 mg

Folate (B9)

0 μg

Vitamin C

0 mg


6 mg


0.42 mg


2 mg


4 mg


0 mg


2 mg


0.22 mg

Other constituents
Water 24 g

Shown is for 100 g, roughly 5.25 tbsp.
Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
Structural formulae of fructose (left) and glucose (right)

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) (also called glucose-fructose,[1] isoglucose and glucose-fructose syrup[2][3]) is a sweetener made from corn starch that has been processed by glucose isomerase to convert some of its glucose into fructose. HFCS was first marketed in the early 1970s by the Clinton Corn Processing Company, together with the Japanese research institute where the enzyme was discovered.

As a sweetener, HFCS is often compared to granulated sugar. Advantages of HFCS over granulated sugar include being easier to handle, and being less expensive in some countries. However, there is also debate concerning whether HFCS presents greater health risks than other sweeteners.[4] Use of HFCS peaked in the late 1990s.[5][6][7]

Apart from comparisons between HFCS and table sugar, there is some evidence that the over-consumption of added sugar in any form, including HFCS, is a major health problem.[8][9] Consuming added sugars, especially in the form of soft drinks, is strongly linked to obesity.[10] The World Health Organization has recommended that people limit their consumption of added sugars to 10% of calories, but experts say that typical consumption of empty calories in the United States is nearly twice that level.[10]



In the U.S., HFCS is among the sweeteners that mostly replaced sucrose (table sugar) in the food industry.[11] Factors include production quotas of domestic sugar, import tariff on foreign sugar, and subsidies of U.S. corn, raising the price of sucrose and lowering that of HFCS, making it cheapest for many sweetener applications.[12][13] The relative sweetness of HFCS 55, used most commonly in soft drinks, is comparable to sucrose.[14] HFCS (and/or standard corn syrup) is the primary ingredient in most brands of commercial "pancake syrup", as a less expensive substitute for maple syrup.[15]

Because of its similar sugar profile and lower price, HFCS has been used illegally to "stretch" honey. Assays to detect adulteration with HFCS use differential scanning calorimetry and other advanced testing methods.[16][17]


In apiculture in the United States, HFCS became a sucrose replacement for honey bees starting in the late 1970s. When HFCS is heated to about 45 °C (113 °F), hydroxymethylfurfural can form from the breakdown of fructose, and is toxic to bees. One study that followed the concentration of HMF in syrups store at different temperatures states that past 40 °C the HMF content can dramatically increase. This increase can be predicted by the pH content of the syrup along with other factors. Syrups with higher pH would produce less HMF.[18] HFCS has been investigated as a possible source of colony collapse disorder.[19] Although some researchers cite it as a cause of CCD, there are also documented reports of CCD occurring with beekeepers who do not feed their bees HFCS. Some researchers also attribute CCD to HFCS that has been produced with genetically modified corn.[20]



In the contemporary process, corn is milled to produce corn starch and an "acid-enzyme" process is used in which the corn starch solution is acidified to begin breaking up the existing carbohydrates, and then enzymes are added to further metabolize the starch and convert the resulting sugars to fructose.[21]:808–813 The first enzyme added is alpha-amylase which breaks the long chains down into shorter sugar chains – oligosaccharides. Glucoamylase is mixed in and converts them to glucose; the resulting solution is filtered to remove protein, then using activated carbon, and then demineralized using Ion-exchange resins. The purified solution is then run over immobilized xylose isomerase, which turns the sugars to ~50–52% glucose with some unconverted oligosaccharides, and 42% fructose (HFCS 42), and again demineralized and again purified using activated carbon. Some is processed into HFCS 90 by liquid chromatography, then mixed with HFCS 42 to form HFCS 55. The enzymes used in the process are made by microbial fermentation.[21]:808–813[22]:20–22

Composition and varieties

HFCS is 24% water, the rest mainly fructose and glucose with 0–5% unprocessed glucose oligomers.[5] There are several varieties of HFCS, these are numbered by the percentage of fructose they contain:


Commercial production of corn syrup began in 1864.[22]:17 In the late 1950s, scientists at Clinton Corn Processing Company of Clinton, Iowa tried to turn glucose from corn starch into fructose, but the process was not scalable.[22]:17[26] In 1965–1970 Yoshiyuki Takasaki, at the Japanese National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) developed a heat-stable Xylose isomerase enzyme from yeast. In 1967, the Clinton Corn Processing Company obtained an exclusive license to a manufacture glucose isomerase derived from Streptomyces bacteria, and began shipping an early version of HCFS in February 1967.[22]:140In 1983, the FDA approved HFCS as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS), and that decision was reaffirmed in 1996[27]

Prior to the development of the worldwide sugar industry, dietary fructose was limited to only a few items. Milk, meats, and most vegetables, the staples of many early diets, have no fructose, and only 5–10% fructose by weight is found in fruits such as grapes, apples, and blueberries. Molasses and common dried fruits have a content of less than 10% fructose sugar. From 1970 to 2000, there was a 25% increase in "added sugars" in the U.S.[28] After being classified as "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1976,[29] HFCS began to replace sucrose as the main sweetener of soft drinks in the United States. At the same time, rates of obesity rose. That correlation, in combination with laboratory research and epidemiological studies that suggested a link between consuming large amounts of fructose and changes to various proxy health measures including elevated blood triglycerides, size and type of low-density lipoproteins, uric acid levels, and weight, raised concerns about health effects of HFCS itself.[5]

United States

Consumption of sugar and corn-based sweeteners in the United States from 1966 to 2013, in dry-basis pounds per capita

In the U.S., sugar tariffs and quotas keep imported sugar at up to twice the global price since 1797,[30][31] while subsidies to corn growers cheapen the primary ingredient in HFCS, corn. Industrial users looking for cheaper replacements rapidly adopted HFCS in the 1970s.[32][33]

HFCS is easier to handle than granulated sucrose, although some sucrose is transported as solution. Unlike sucrose, HFCS cannot be hydrolyzed, but the free fructose in HFCS may produce Hydroxymethylfurfural when stored at high temperatures; these differences are most prominent in acidic beverages.[34] Soft drink makers such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi use sugar in other nations, but switched to HFCS in the U.S. in 1984.[35] Large corporations, such as Archer Daniels Midland, lobby for the continuation of government corn subsidies.[36]

Consumption of HFCS in the U.S. has declined since it peaked at 37.5 lb (17.0 kg) per person in 1999. The average American consumed approximately 27.1 lb (12.3 kg) of HFCS in 2012,[37] versus 39.0 lb (17.7 kg) of refined cane and beet sugar.[38][39] This decrease in domestic consumption of HFCS resulted in a push in exporting of the product. In 2012, The United States exported approximately 1.47 million metric tons of fructose, which marks a 1,450 percent increase since 1995.[40]

In the United States, the Corn Refiners Association has attempted to counter negative public perceptions by marketing campaigns describing HFCS as "natural" and by attempting to change the name of the product to "corn sugar", which the FDA rejected.

European Union

In the European Union (EU), HFCS, known as isoglucose in sugar regime, is subject to a production quota. In 2005, this quota was set at 303,000 tons; in comparison, the EU produced an average of 18.6 million tons of sugar annually between 1999 and 2001.[41]


In Japan, HFCS is manufactured mostly from imported U.S. corn and the output is regulated by the government. For the period from 2007 to 2012 HFCS had a 27–30% share of the Japanese sweetener market.[42]:21


The negative effects of High Fructose Corn Syrup, have been linked to more ailments than just that of obesity and metabolic disorders. Some of the concerns are said to promote the formation of toxic advanced glycation end-products, which play a role in the ageing process, and furthermore impacting pathogenesis of the vascular, renal, and ocular complications of diabetes.[43] Greater than 60% of adults living in the U.S. and Europe are obese.[44]

Obesity and metabolic disorders

Sugars became a health concern among the American public in the early 1970s with the publication of John Yudkin's book, Pure, White and Deadly, which claimed that simple sugars, an increasingly large part of the Western diet, were dangerous.[22]:18 In the 1980s and 1990s, Gerald Reaven and Sheldon Reiser of the USDA published papers discussing the dangers of dietary fructose from consumption of sucrose and of HFCS, especially with regard to heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.[22]:18 These concerns came to the public's attention through media attention to a 2004 commentary in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that suggested that the altered metabolism of fructose when compared to glucose may be a factor in increasing obesity rates since, as compared to glucose, fructose may be more readily converted to fat and the sugar causes less of a rise in insulin and leptin, both of which increase feelings of satiety. Fructose, in contrast to glucose, was shown to potently stimulate lipogenesis (creation of fatty acids, for conversion to fat).[22]:18[45][46] In subsequent interviews, two of the study's authors stated the article was distorted to place emphasis solely on HFCS when the actual issue was the overconsumption of any type of sugar.[47][48] While fructose absorption and modification by the intestines and liver does differ from glucose initially, the majority of the fructose molecules are converted to glucose or metabolized into byproducts identical to those produced by glucose metabolism. Consumption of moderate amounts of fructose has also been linked to positive outcomes, including reducing appetite if consumed before a meal, lower blood sugar increases compared to glucose, and (again compared to glucose) delaying exhaustion if consumed during exercise.[5]

In 2007, an expert panel assembled by the University of Maryland's Center for Food, Nutrition and Agriculture Policy reviewed the links between HFCS and obesity and concluded there was no ecological validity in the association between rising body mass indexes (a measure of obesity) and the consumption of HFCS. The panel stated that since the ratio of fructose to glucose had not changed substantially in the United States since the 1960s when HFCS was introduced, the changes in obesity rates were probably not due to HFCS specifically but rather a greater consumption of calories overall, and recommended further research on the topic.[49] In 2009 the American Medical Association published a review article on HFCS and concluded that based on the science available at the time it appeared unlikely that HFCS contributed more to obesity or other health conditions than sucrose, and there was insufficient evidence to suggest warning about or restricting use of HFCS or other fructose-containing sweeteners in foods. The review did report that studies found direct associations between high intakes of fructose and adverse health outcomes, including obesity and the metabolic syndrome.[6]

Epidemiological research has suggested that the increase in metabolic disorders like obesity and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is linked to increased consumption of sugars and/or calories in general and not due to any special effect of HFCS.[5][50][51] A 2012 review found that fructose did not appear to cause weight gain when it replaced other carbohydrates in diets with similar calories.[52] One study investigating HFCS as a possible contributor to diabetes and obesity states that, "As many of the metabolic consequences of a diet high in fructose-containing sugars in humans can also be observed with high-fat or high-glucose feeding, it is possible that excess calories may be the main culprit in the development of the metabolic syndrome."[53] Another study compared similar intakes of honey, white cane sugar, and HFCS and showed similar rises in both blood sugar level and triglycerides.[54] High fructose consumption has been linked to high levels of uric acid in the blood, though this is only thought to be a concern for patients with gout.[5]

However, a 2016 study provided new evidence that seems to link HFCS to an increase of triglyceride buildup.[55] Elevated triglyceride numbers and lipoproteins rich in triglycerides are factors in cardiovascular diseases.[56] In the study, female rats were divided into groups and drank either water or water sweetened with sucrose, fructose, or HFCS-55. While there was no discernable weight change in any of the groups, rats that drank HFCS-55 did have an increase in liver weight. Levels of triglycerides and total lipids in the liver were higher than other groups. Also, the study showed that the amounts of palmitoleic acid in the liver were remarkably higher in the HFCS-55 group. Essentially, the study presents that some types of sugars, especially HFCS-55, can be more damaging to the liver than others in a hypercaloric state. Limiting the over intake of HFCS-enhanced drinks and all caloric sweetened drinks is suggested.[55]

Another study released in 2010 compared the weight gain of rats when consuming equal amounts of either HFCS or sucrose. The study states, "Animals with 12-h 8% HFCS access gained significantly more weight in 8 weeks than animals with 12-h 10% sucrose access." Although both groups consumed the same amount of calories, the rats consuming HFCS showed a much more significant weight gain than those consuming sucrose. However, there was no difference in blood glucose levels across the different groups. There was also no difference in weight gain between rats that had either 12-h or 24-h access to HFCS. Additionally, the rats exposed to HFCS had developed heavier fat pads which were most pronounced in the abdominal region. The study suggests that rats that have access to HFCS will gain weight, but does not necessarily link the substance to obesity.[57] Another similar study where rats were fed HFCS at regular intervals found "chronic consumption of HFCS caused several problems like cardiac and endothelial injury of aorta by hyperuricemia and induced oxidative stress and inflammation."[58]

Recent studies have suggested that the short term effects of HFCS are minimal, however the intergeneration effects of HFCS consumption during pregnancy on the offspring may be of greater consequence.[59] Early evidence shows that female offspring weight at birth is reduced compared to that of males and that plasma NEFA concentrations are reduced independent of offspring sex.[59]

Numerous agencies in the United States recommend reducing the consumption of all sugars, including HFCS, without singling it out as presenting extra concerns. The Mayo Clinic cites the American Heart Association's recommendation that women limit the added sugar in their diet to 100 calories a day (~6 teaspoons) and that men limit it to 150 calories a day (~9 teaspoons), noting that there is not enough evidence to support HFCS having more adverse health effects than excess consumption of any other type of sugar.[60][61] The United States departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services recommendations for a healthy diet state that consumption of all types of added sugars be reduced.[62]:p.27

People with fructose malabsorption should avoid foods containing HFCS.[63]


Taste Difference

Some countries, including Mexico, use sucrose, or sugar, in soft drinks. In the U.S., soft drinks, including Coca-Cola, are typically made with HFCS. Some Americans seek out drinks such as Mexican Coca-Cola in ethnic groceries because they prefer the taste more than the HFCS sweetened Coca-Cola .[64][65] Kosher Coca-Cola, sold in the U.S. around the Jewish holiday of Passover, also uses sucrose rather than HFCS and is highly sought after by people who prefer the original taste.[66] While these are simply opinions, a recent study further backs up the idea that people enjoy sugar more than HFCS. The study, conducted by Michigan State University, included a 99-member panel that evaluated yogurt sweetened with sugar, HFCS, and different varieties of honey for likeness. The results showed that, overall, the panel enjoyed the yogurt with sugar added more than those that contained HFCS or honey.[67]

Public relations

There are various public relations concerns with HFCS, including with its labeling as "natural", with its advertising, with companies that have moved back to sugar, and a proposed name change to "corn sugar". In 2010 the Corn Refiners Association applied to allow HFCS to be renamed "corn sugar", but were rejected by the United States Food and Drug Administration in 2012.[68] The Corn Refiners Association has reportedly spent millions in public relations campaigns in an effort to portray HFCS in a more positive light, sometimes without disclosing their involvement in these campaigns. In one instance, the association paid public relations firm Berman & Company $3.5 million to defend their products. An email sent out by one staff member in 2009 regarding the campaign stated, "As you know, our sponsorship of this campaign remains confidential, [. . .] We are funding Berman & Company directly, not the Center for Consumer Freedom, which is running the ads. If asked, please feel free to state the following: 'The Corn Refiners Association is not funding the Center for Consumer Freedom.'"[69] This is one of several campaigns that The Corn Refiners Association chose not to disclose their involvement in.

McDonald's reported in August 2016 that, in a move to please health-conscious customers, would be replacing all HFCS in their buns with sugar in addition to a multitude of concessions cutting preservatives and other artificial additives from their menu items. Marion Gross, senior vice president of McDonald's stated, "We know that they don't feel good about high-fructose corn syrup so we're giving them what they're looking for instead." [70] Other companies such as Hunt's Ketchup, Gatorade, and Wheat Thins also phased out HFCS, replacing it with conventional sugar. Other companies like Pepsi, Mtn Dew, and Heinz have also released products that use sugar in lieu of HFCS, although they still sell the original HFCS-sweetened versions as well.[71]

See also


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Further reading

Litchfield, Ruth (2008). High Fructose Corn Syrup—How sweet it is. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Retrieved 2013-03-01. 

External links

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