Breaking Down High Fructose Corn Syrup

Bio-fuelHigh Fructose Corn Syrup–it was an ingredient that I had heard of, but never really paid much attention to. That was until I had a conversation with a  friend. Her son was having a sort of tic, and after trying to figure out what was causing the sudden onset, High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) seemed to be the culprit. She continued to tell me about it, and where it was found (ketchup! BBQ sauce! bread!) and I started to get goosebumps on my arms. A few weeks later, I went in for my annual exam, and my doctor told me what I needed to be doing–exercise, vitamins, etc, etc and then he ended with, “And whatever you do, make sure to stay away from HFCS.” My ears perked up–this seemed to be an ingredient from the devil, but before I made my decision, I needed to learn more. Breezy Mama enlisted the help of Dr. Kathy Gruver, PhD, Host of the National TV Series, The Alternative Medicine Cabinet on OTV and author of the book by the same name, for answers.

What exactly is HFCS?

HFCS is a processed sweetener that started being used in the 70s and 80s as a cheaper alternative to sucrose or table sugar. Because corn is one of the most subsidized crops in this country it was drastically cheaper to use. It undergoes a process to turn it’s glucose into fructose.

Is it different than sugar?

Yes, definitely. You don’t just squeeze corn and get HFCS, it undergoes a lot of chemical and enzymatic processing and not something that naturally occurs in nature. Table sugar is mainly sucrose; the molecular structure is different and it’s metabolized in different parts of the body.

Do our bodies process HFCS and sugar the same way?

There is debate on this depending on whose research you read. The people that manufacture HFCS say it is exactly the same…but it’s their product, what are they going to say? Many studies I’ve read from independent sources state that the body reacts differently. Fructose is metabolized mainly in the liver and overconsumption could lead to NAFLD (non-alcohol fatty liver disease). Naturally occurring fructose from fruit has other compounds with it that aid in digestion and also contains fiber and vitamins. High amounts of unopposed fructose in animal studies show increased weight gain, increase in triglycerides and increased risk of heart issues.

Advocates of HFCS say that it’s a myth to believe that it’s bad for us—is that true?

The man who makes his living telling you that something is true is not going to admit it’s false. I say follow the money. They can’t say it’s bad for us, it’s their income. And when they fund the research, I just can’t buy it. And even if it processed in the body exactly the same way as sugar and doesn’t lead to obesity. It’s still GMO and I recommend avoiding those too. And it indicates a highly processed, cheaply made, typically “fake” food. No nutritional value, stay away.

Is HFCS modified? Can we think of it as a GMO?

Yes, the corn that is used to make HFCS is, more often than not, GMO. It also indicates a highly processed and nutrient void product. Corn, soy and cotton are the 3 most commonly GM foods and used to make packaged and processed foods. Also, in the processing of HFCS some methods release mercury into the product. And we don’t know which products would contain mercury. Another reason to avoid it.

Why are health advocates warning people to stay away from HFCS?

Many believe it is contributing to obesity, type 2 diabetes and tumor formation. It has no nutritional value and tricks the brain into thinking it’s getting something sweet. There is also evidence that it shuts down leptin production in our brain, which is what tells us when we’re full.

Does it react differently in children than regular sugar?

Yes, it is metabolized differently though the manufacturers want you to believe otherwise.

Is all HFCS bad? For example, is the HFCS just as bad in ketchup as it is in cookies?

Yes, from what I understand, it’s all the same stuff. And remember that things on a nutrition label are listed in order of greatest amount to least amount. So if it’s the first ingredient, there’s a lot there.

Is HFCS used as an ingredient around the world, or just in the US?

It is used in other countries as well but often called Glucose/Fructose on their labels.

Is HFCS labeled as anything else in ingredients? Or can we just look for the words High Fructose Corn Syrup?

They tried to get it labeled as corn sugar, which was denied by the FDA. In other countries it’s labeled as Glucose/Fructose.

Anything you’d like to add? 

We have to go back to the most natural, nutritious food we can. HFCS isn’t adding to our health at all. It supplies no vitamins and just, in many cases, contributes empty calories, especially in soda. I avoid HFCS very strictly. But every once in while you’re at a restaurant and just want some ketchup. I had some recently and because my body isn’t used to having any within about 15 minutes, my heart started to race, I felt hot and kind of anxious. Imagine what this might be doing to people that have so much on a daily basis.

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headshotAbout Dr. Kathy Gruver:

Dr. Kathy Gruver is an award-winning author and the host of the national TV show based on her first book, The Alternative Medicine Cabinet. She has earned her PhD in Natural Health and has just authored her second book entitled Body/Mind Therapies for the Bodyworker. Her third book, Conquer Your Stress with Mind/Body Therapies will be released shortly. She has studied mind/body medicine at the famed Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at Harvard Medical School and pursued further education at The National Institutes of Health. Gruver has been featured as an expert in countless publications including, Ladies Home Journal, Massage and Bodyworks Magazine and Massage Magazine. She has written dozens of health and wellness articles and contributing posts. She has appeared as a guest expert on over 100 radio and TV shows including NPR, CBS Radio and Lifetime Television and has done over 60 educational lectures around the country. She has also served as an expert witness for massage negligence and ethics cases.

A recent winner of NAWBO’s Spirit of Entrepreneurship Awards and nominee for the Gutsy Gal Awards, Kathy maintains a massage and natural health practice in Santa Barbara, CA, also offering phone and email health consultations. She has also produced an instructional massage DVD, Therapeutic Massage at Home; Learn to Rub People the RIGHT Way and is a practitioner with over 20 years of experience. Her book, The Alternative Medicine Cabinet was selected as a winner of the Beverly Hills Book Awards and finalist for the IndyExcellence Awards and was recently turned into a national talk show. More information can be found at

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  1. Jacqueline says

    My kids won’t eat anything unless it’s dipped in ketchup. The ketchup from Trader Joe’s for example doesn’t list HFCS as an ingredient. Is there a chance it’s still hidden in there?

  2. Jacqueline,
    Great question. HFCS is something that is required to be labeled, so it’s not lurking. And you won’t find it in organic ketchup, that’s what I buy from TJ’s.

  3. Dr. OZ said it was processed the same way and I trust him. My doctor said to treat it just like any other sugar and only eat it in moderation. I’m cool with that.

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