Fundamentally Unsafe:
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
Health Risks and Personal Responsibility

There's been some debate about HFCS. So I decided to get acquainted with both sides of the debate.

After reading through several articles today that stated HFCS is safe and nutritionally equal to sugar, and comparing those sources with countless sources stating otherwise, I became angry; there are so many reasons to be angry about the high fructose corn syrup debate. While the side who claim it's safe does have some, albeit flimsy, sources to back themselves up; the opposing anti-HFCS side is stacked to the gills with proof.

One thing I noticed was that all the “HFCS is Safe” articles neglected to mention the fact that, while NUTRITIONALLY equal (I'm not going to dispute the nutritional facts), there are other issues when it comes to HFCS that are dangerous.

HFCS is fundamentally not safe. It has been linked to such things as liver scarring, obesity and type 2 diabetes. It has also been found to contain mercury and other harmful substances that only some real research can uncover.

It's my opinion that the public doesn't understand the difference between "nutritionally safe" and "fundamentally safe". HFCS is fundamentally UNSAFE.

In order for people to be able to make responsible decisions about their diet and nutrition they must be armed with as much truth as they can. I understand that all scientific research can be bias. Most research is skewed to show results congruent with the wishes of the organization financially backing them. However, when it comes to health I am advocate for erring on the side caution.

Heavy Use of High Fructose Corn Syrup

Nearly all junk food in the United States contains HFCS and people regularly ingest high amounts of it. According to the United States Department of Agriculture Statistics, the average American eats an amazing 41.5 lbs of high fructose corn syrup per year. About 20 teaspoons of sugar a day, mostly from “hidden sugars”.

One can of soda equals about 10 ½ teaspoons of sugar, roughly an entire days worth of calories from added sugar, according to the USDA. 1

Between 1985 and 1999, U.S. consumption of sugars added to food items increased by 23 percent. 2 Considering the most popular (and cheapest) sugar added to processed foods then, and now, is high fructose corn syrup, it is not hard to understand how a society that sustains itself on so much junk food could be ingesting so much.

Corn is a heavily government subsidized crop in the United States, which makes it's production very cheap and in turn makes products created from it even cheaper. Cheaper ingredients in the production of junk food means cheaper junk food and higher profits (more people will buy it if it's cheap) for companies who don't really care about the health and welfare of the public, when they can lining their pockets with hefty profits. But that's just common sense.

Americans’ refined (white) sugar consumption has dropped over the past 20 years, according to studies. However, according to USDA figures, our consumption of high-fructose corn syrup has increased 250 percent over the past 15 years. 3

What Is High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

First of all, what it isn't. HFCS is NOT a natural source of sugar. It is a sugar created by the chemical alteration of cornstarch which turns it into syrup. 4

Chemically it is known as isoglucose5 , street name(s) include maize syrup, glucose-fructose syrup in the UK, high fructose corn syrup in the U.S. and glucose/fructose6 in Canada

HFCS was created in the 1970's created by adding alpha-amylase, an enzyme derived from a bacteria, to cornstarch, which breaks it down. Once broken down, a second enzyme called glucoamylase (a derivative a fungus known as Aspergullis) is added. As it continues to ferment nearly pure glucose slurry is created.

During the third step, the glucose slurry is poured over columns containing an enzyme called glucose-isomerase. The result of this is a creation of a combination of fructose and glucose. Next liquid chromatography “distills” the syrup into 90% fructose, which is then blended back into the original mix to create the final product: a 55%/45% fructose/glucose product called high fructose corn syrup. 7

Most consumer research, on finding out the process of making HFCS, neglects to mention that the material used in the process of separating the corn starch from the kernel, call caustic soda, is produced in industrial chlorine manufacturing plants using mercury cells, which contaminate caustic soda and HFCS with mercury.8 A little known fact that is not available to consumers, and in some cases the companies who purchase HFCS for production of food.

The Fundamentally Unsafe Links to Consumption of HFCS

So, as previously mentioned recent studies link HFCS with mercury contamination8. Mercury is a brain toxin with no known “safe” level of exposure. Exposure in babies can prevent normal development, impaired learning and decrease in IQ. Exposure by children can cause physical and well as mental ailments12 ;and yet for decades an increasingly common ingredient in processed foods, HFCS, has been made using mercury-grade caustic soda.7 The most common products containing “mercury-grade” HFCS includes dairy products, dressings and condiments. However, in 2007, then-Senator Barack Obama introduced legislation to force the remaining chlor-alkali plants to phase out mercury cell technology by 2012. 8

So, by 2012 HFCS should be 100% mercury free. That's good news, right?

Meet hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) a substance created when HFCS is heated. Recent studies have linked HMF, to DNA damage in humans. In addition, HMF breaks down in the body to other substances potentially more harmful than HMF.13 While research will reveal results regarding HMF, I won't hold my breath for good news.

Next on the list is carbonyls, which are “highly reactive compounds associated with “unbound” fructose and glucose molecules that are believed to cause tissue damage”9, in people with diabetes the level of reactive carbonyls are elevated, according to U.S. Researchers at the 2007 American Chemical Society Conference. They found that drinks made with HFCS contained “astonishingly high levels on this compound, a trait not shared by table sugar, “whose fructose and glucose components are “bound” and chemically stable” 9

In addition further studies have linked appetite levels with HFCS consumption, making claims that appetite decreased less after drinking beverages that contain HFCS, which causes triglycerides to increase. An increase in triglycerides is a risk indicator for cardiovascular disease.”9

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) has been linked with multiple health relates issues, including the growth of diabetes in children9 and obesity in North America. The link between the rise of obesity and the introduction of HFCS into processed foods shows a direct correlation.10 and critics claim it's chemical composition, which differs from sucrose, has critical effects on the human body.9

While there is a study claiming it's safeness for every study linking HFCS to health related issues, a recent study by Princeton University has been met with much controversy, but is worth some consideration.

A 6 month study on lab rats, by Princeton University, on the long-term effects of high-fructose corn syrup consumption, yielded results that indicated high risk health characteristic that are signs of not just metabolic syndrome, but also high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, cancer and diabetes. Rats with access to HFCS gained 48 percent more weight than those on a regular diet. The study monitored weight gain, body fat and triglyceride levels and revealed “abnormal weight gain, significant increases in circulating triglycerides and augmented fat deposition, especially visceral fat around the belly.”

This study has promoted additional studies such as the consumption of HFCS in conjunction with a high-fat diet and more in-depth studies on the association between excessive HFCS consumption and the diseases associated with obesity.11

In release in March 2010 regarding a type liver disease called 'non-alcoholic fatty liver disease' , according to the American Chemical Society, was associated with high intakes of HFCS, which causes permanent liver damage.9

Genetically Modified Organisms:

While the debate is still out (for the majority) on the safety of Genetically Modified Organisms, one cannot end without mentioning that the majority of HFCS is made from GMO corn. I have my own beliefs, standards and issues regarding GMO's: “Does this tomato smell fishy to you? Why I am not supportive of my tomato being “armed” with fish genes!” (TBA)

F or a great article on how to avoid GMO's visit:

With all the evidence pointed towards the consumption of high fructose being unsafe, one can't help but think that all these doctors and nutritionists backing HFCS "safety" are in someone's pocket...

*cough* The Corn Refiners Association *cough*...

It's all about personal responsibility and moderation. Each person gets to choose how they approach their health and diets. While High Fructose Corn Syrup may be one of the many culprits in the obesity epidemic in the United States. The real culprit of Americas expanding waistlines and increasingly poor health can really be summed up in one word: Gluttony.

---------------------------------------------------Steps to Avoid HFCS

Get in the habit of reading food labels.

Avoid foods that contain high fructose corn syrup or HFCS.

Drink less soda. Choose fresh fruit rather than fruit juice or fruit-flavored drinks.

Choose 100% juice over "all natural flavors" but don't forget that even juice contains large amounts of sugar, with no advantage of fiber; avoid “fruit drinks”.

Choose canned fruits in own their own juice, instead of heavy syrup.

Limit or avoid processed foods.


1. -----. “Profiling Food Consumption in America“ Agriculture Fact Book. 2000-2001 <>

2. Haley, Stephen. Reed, Jane. Lin,Biing-Hwan. Cook, Annetta. “ Sweetener Consumption in the United States: Distribution by Demographic and Product Characteristics” .USDA Economic Research Service. 19 April 2005

3 Lempert, Phil. “ Florida legislators want to ban the sweetener in schools. 'Today' food editor Phil Lempert examines whether the sugary substance is unhealthy”. MSNBC. 30 March 2006

4 Warner, Melanie. “ For Corn Syrup, the Sweet Talk Gets Harder”. New York Times 30 April 2010

5. ------. Oxford Dictionary of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Oxford University Press, 2006 (page 311)

6. -----. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada ?>

7. -----. “ What is High Fructose Corn Syrup?”. Wise Geek: Clear Answers for Common Questions

8. Wallinga, David M.D., Soren, Janelle Sen. Mottl, Pooja. Yablon, Brian M.D “Not So Sweet: Missing Mercury and High Fructose Corn Syrup” Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. 2009 January. <> or <>

9. -----. “ High fructose corn syrup: just another sugar?” CBC News. 22 April 2010

10. Drum, Kevin. “Sugar, Sugar”. Mother Jones. 12 May 2009 (*****)

11. Parker, Hilary. “A sweet problem: Princeton researchers find that high-fructose corn syrup prompts considerably more weight gain”. Princeton University. 22 March 2010 <>

12. 12.-----. “Mercury Poisining”. Medline Net. 23 March 2010

13. LeBlanc et al. “Formation of Hydroxymethylfurfural in Domestic High-Fructose Corn Syrup and Its Toxicity to the Honey Bee (Apis mellifera)”. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2009; 57 (16): 7369 DOI:10.1021/jf9014526

Articles of Interest:

List Of Food Additives: Their Role In Healthy Eating

How to Avoid HFCS

High Fructose Corn Syrup Linked to Liver Scarring