High fructose corn syrup, or HFCS, is a form of food sweetener that is made from processed corn starch. The processing of HFCS involves converting the glucose that is inherent in corn starch into a type of fructose, which is a type of sugar found in fruits. Although corn syrup had existed since the nineteenth century, the high fructose variant was much sweeter, comparable to refined sugar. The product was first introduced in 1967, after the technology existed to create HFCS (Rippe, 2014).
The advantage of HFCS is that it is cheaper to manufacture than other sweeteners, most notably refined sugar. This is due to the prevalence of corn in the United States, where HFCS was first manufactured (Rippe, 2014). Because it is cheaper to produce, many foods that include HFCS are able to be sold at cheaper rates than if they contained more expensive sugars. Individuals who consume soft drinks, which commonly use HFCS, will end up paying less for these drinks than if they included refined sugar instead of HFCS. However, its lower cost and ease of manufacture appears to be the only real benefit, at least to the average consumer.
The main cons of HFCS are the potential health risks it can cause, including obesity and diabetes; the prevalence of HFCS in many food products, so avoiding HFCS is difficult; the terminology and name of high-fructose corn syrup, which disguises the fact that it is essentially a sugar; and a culture that is increasingly dependent upon processed and sugary foods, rather than natural alternatives.
When HFCS was first introduced, there was a subsequent rise in obesity and diabetes rates (Goran et al., 2013). Thus, there is a suspected correlation between consuming this product and health risks in later life. The main defense of HFCS in this regard is whether foods that are high in granulated sugar would create the same risks; however, whether the health problems are caused because HFCS is consumed instead of sugar, or if people are simply consuming more sweeteners of any kind, the fact remains that since HFCS was made available for public consumption, people have become unhealthier. Diabetes and obesity are now at epidemic proportions in the United States, and this can create a cycle of unhealthy eating behaviors: as more parents consume products high in HFCS, they will be more likely to feed their children similar diets. Even if a direct link between HFCS and diabetes or obesity remains theoretical, few disagree that HFCS is composed of empty calories, and therefore has no health benefits.
Due to the prevalence of HFCS, avoiding it can be extremely difficult unless one remains constantly vigilant about ingredients. HFCS is included in most sweet beverages, and is not limited to soft drinks. Nearly any product known to be sweet, including drinks, pastries, pasta sauces, breakfast cereals, and numerous other foods will contain HFCS (Bray, 2013). This creates a culture where people become simply used to the product even though it may be damaging to one’s health. Even for those who are conscious about the potential health risks, avoiding these foods can become a significant inconvenience, and would require a commitment to changing one’s diet nearly completely.
High fructose corn syrup has become problematic in the United States because it has become overused. Sugary foods can be addictive, so persons who become addicted to drinking soda or enjoying sweets can find it harder to stop. Additionally, because HFCS is so common in foods marketed toward children, society is taught at a young age to indulge in products with high amounts of HFCS. The switch to HFCS from regular sugar was only motivated by economics, as HFCS is cheaper. However, the price society has paid for cheaper sweet foods is worse health.
- Bray, G. A. (2013). Energy and fructose from beverages sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup pose a health risk for some people. Advances in Nutrition: An International Review Journal, 4(2), 220-225.
- Goran, M. I., Ulijaszek, S. J., & Ventura, E. E. (2013). High fructose corn syrup and diabetes prevalence: a global perspective. Global public health, 8(1), 55-64.
- Rippe, J. M. (2014). Fructose, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sucrose and Health. Springer Science Media.