The danger of High Fructose Corn Syrup and HFCS-90

High Fructose Corn Syrup

High Fructose Corn Syrup

by Catherine Haug, April 26, 2013

(photo, right, from

High fructose corn syrup, or HFCS, is a ubiquitous sweetener in commercial beverages and processed foods, but “numerous clinical studies have shown that people who consume excess amounts of fructose are more likely to develop diabetes, heart disease and become obese.” (1,2,3)

What makes HFCS so problematic is its primary sugar, fructose (a.k.a fruit sugar). The corn industry asserts that HFCS is no different from sugar (table sugar) and is metabolized just like sugar. But that assertion is mostly false, especially for HFCS-90. You should also know that HFCS is a GMO product.

For your own and your family’s health (not to mention that of the planet), be informed. See HFCS – FDA Allowing Illegal Ingredient In Foods & Beverages, and read on for my take on this subject.


There are many different types of sugar with varying degrees of sweetness; they differ in the number of carbon atoms, and arrangement of all the atoms in the molecule. Table sugar (sucrose, from sugar cane or sugar beets) is comprised of two simple sugars in a 50-50 ratio: glucose and fructose, both of which are 6-carbon sugars.

  • Glucose is a major source of energy for the body’s muscles, and is metabolized in the muscle cells. It is only lightly sweet.
  • Fructose, on the other hand, is not used for energy production in the muscles, and must be metabolized in the liver where it is usually converted into saturated fat (palmitic acid), then shipped off to be stored in fat cells. Fructose is much sweeter than glucose. (2)

HFCS and HFCS-90

The sucrose in corn is the same as table sugar, with 50% each glucose and fructose. But when manufactured into HFCS, some of the natural glucose is converted to fructose, to up the sweetness level.

By the way, this conversion is accomplished by genetically engineered (GE) enzymes from GMO bacteria.

One type of HFCS, called HFCS-90 is 10% glucose and 90% fructose, because most of the original glucose has been converted to fructose by the GE enzymes.

The problem with HFCS-90 is that it has never been approved for consumption by the FDA, because it “does not have adequate information to assess the safety of…the final product;” noting that “additional data on the effects of fructose consumption…would be needed to ensure that this product is safe.”  (1)

In fact, the FDA allows no more than 55% fructose in HFCS used in foods; anything greater than that is illegal. Nevertheless, processed food and beverage companies have been adding HFCS-90 to their products for years, with the FDA’s full knowledge. (1)

From a sustainability viewpoint, HFCS is not good because it is a highly processed sweetener, using genetically engineered enzymes, consuming a lot of energy to produce, and resulting in environmental pollution. Regular corn syrup is not much better.

See also my earlier articles/essays:

Better sweeteners

When buying sweetened foods for your family, first look for Organic products, because they should not include any GMO ingredients, which means no HFCS.

  • Molasses (especially blackstrap molasses), sorghumraw honey, maple syrup, and 100% cane sugar (especially liquid or dehydrated sugar cane juice) are better forms of sugar. NOTE, however, that honey may be contaminated by GMO, if the bees have access to GMO canola or other GMO blooms. Note also that regular “sugar” (not labeled as 100% cane sugar) is from sugar beets that are now GMO.
  • Xylitol is a sugar alcohol found naturally in birch bark, but most commercial xylitol comes from other, sometimes synthetic, sources. People with blood sugar issues can use xylitol in baking recipes as a 1-for-1 substitute for sugar, where sugar is a critical ingredient for texture; for example, cookies, meringue, macaroons, and so on. (Manitol and sorbitol are other sugar alcohols but these have their own health issues and I don’t recommend them).
  • Natural stevia or stevia extracts. Stevia is an herb whose green leaves are incredibly sweet. 1/2 – 1 tsp of powdered stevia extract is as sweet as 1 cup of table sugar.

See my 2009 essays: Sweet Cravings Part 1: Natural Sugar Sweetenersand Sweet Cravings Part 3: Stevia, Xylitol and Artificial Sweeteners for more.


  1. HFCS – FDA Allowing Illegal Ingredient In Foods & Beverages
  2. Whole Body Metabolism of L-Sugars, a 1995 study
  3. Weston A. Price Foundation: Agave nectar: Worse Than We Thought, by Sally Fallon Morell and Rami Nagel

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