Is High Fructose Corn Syrup More Harmful Than Sugar?

We are talking about a liquid sweetener, created from starch or cornstarch.

There is currently no evidence to suggest that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is worse than sugar.

Both high fructose corn syrup and sugar are essentially the same; the difference between them is too small to matter in moderate consumption, and in excess both are detrimental to health.

Structure of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a liquid mixture of glucose and fructose, where both molecules float in solution (as monosaccharides or single sugar molecules) instead of being bound together.

It is commonly used in food products because it is cheap to produce and has a slightly sweeter perception than a similar dose of sucrose.

The fructose content, which generates most of the sweetness, ranges from 42-55% in liquid solutions (with a rarer form of HFCS used in hard candy being up to 90% fructose).

Sucrose is known as a disaccharide (two sugars) of glucose and fructose, it is essentially glucose connected to fructose in a 1: 1 ratio. Due to this ratio, sucrose can be seen as 50% glucose and 50% fructose. .

Due to the presence of the enzyme sucrase (invertase) in the intestines, sucrose is broken down into free glucose and fructose before intestinal absorption.

This results in glucose and fructose being detectable in the blood after ingestion of sucrose, and there are no differences between the sugars other than the relative amounts of fructose (which are lower).

From a structural point of view, table sugar (sucrose) and HFCS are very similar and confer the same sugars in somewhat similar proportions.

The difference between sucrose and the highest HFCS fructose content (55%) is practically negligible with moderate or moderately high consumption.

Assuming the worst case, HFCS can be 55% fructose; for 100 g (400 kcal) of sugar ingested this would confer an extra 5 g of fructose in relation to the same amount of calories from sucrose.

It seems that in practical situations the extra fructose load is too insignificant to be practically relevant, and excessive consumption of HFCS to a degree that fructose may be relevant in practice is associated with excessive consumption of sugar in general.

Satiety, weight loss, and hormonal responses

Both sugar and HFCS have been found to have the same effect on satiety and leptin, an important regulator of the feeling of fullness.

This is due to interactions with satiety that differ between glucose and fructose (the two monosaccharides that make sucrose and HFCS) but sucrose and HFCS have similar proportions of the two and there is approximately the same fructose load.

In at least one double-blind intervention, four groups of people all subject to a caloric deficit (500 kcal deficit) had the same rates of weight loss despite the fact that up to 10% and 20% of total calories came from HFCS ( two groups, one in each percentage level) and sucrose (the same).

These levels were chosen to mimic the 25th and 50th percentiles of the average American intake, respectively.

Although fructose and glucose have various effects on appetite regulation, the difference between sucrose and HFCS is minimal to the point that it does not exist because they both have similar concentrations of fructose and glucose.

The body’s metabolic response, referring primarily to leptin and insulin, appears to be the same between sucrose and HFCS when both sugars are administered in similar oral doses without gender influence. The lack of difference has been observed in both healthy men and women.

Currently, it has been concluded (panel of experts) that HFCS and sucrose do not have different influences on body composition and obesity (both are innocent or guilty, depending on the context).

Regardless of whether sugar in general influences obesity and weight gain, sucrose and HFCS do not have significant differences in their effects on the body.

Against evidence?

Three experiments were carried out:

In experiment 1, groups fed HFCS for 12 hours were heavier than those fed sucrose for 12 hours.

This is the comparison from which the conclusions were drawn, disregarding the 24-hour HFCS group which was thinner than the 12-hour sucrose group.

Experiment 2 gives conflicting results for Experiment 1, and Experiment 3 replicates the two 12-hour groups and shows a much smaller difference, with a change in the group that is heavier (sucrose causes more obesity than HFCS).

In no experiment were calories controlled.

At this time, only one other non-epidemiological study has found differences with high fructose corn syrup and creatine with respect to serum fructose levels; however, the HFCS group appeared to ingest more fructose overall prior to the experiment.

Currently, the best-cited and only evidence in a living system to find worse effects of HFCS relative to sucrose appears to be a poorly conducted study with conflicting results; seems to be exaggerated by the interpretation of the media.

Closing note

Nowhere should it be taken away that HFCS is faultless in adult obesity. It does cause obesity when consumed in excess and is consistently correlated with increasing obesity, although the degree of contribution is debated.

What needs to be removed is that the sucrose versus HFCS issue is one where we are trying to find the lesser of the two evils, and both seem to be more or less the same.

The extra calories in the form of sugars tend to increase the risk of obesity when left unchecked, but beyond this, the only differences are in the fructose content.

Since sucrose and HFCS are very similar in the amount of fructose they provide, they are essentially equivalent.