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May 3, 2008 08:28 AM

Is HFCS the same as 'corn syrup'?

Hello! 1st time poster. I'm trying to limit my consumption of HFCS (and sugar in general). Can someone tell me - if I see just 'corn syrup' on the ingredient list - is that the same as HFCS? I'm having trouble finding a definitive answer to this.


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  1. I am aware that Wikipedia is considered by many not to be accurate, but this is their explanation.

    Quote, The more general term glucose syrup is often used synonymously with corn syrup, since the former is most commonly made from corn starch. Technically, though, glucose syrup is any liquid starch hydrolysate of mono, di, and higher saccharides and can be made from from any sources of starch; wheat, rice and potatoes are the most common sources. A=B but B=/=A

    High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a variant in which other enzymes are used to convert some of the glucose into fructose. The resulting syrup is sweeter and more soluble.


    I am sure that this thread will reach tangents that you never considered, as this topic can be quite controversial, as well as my use of Wikipedia as a source.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Kelli2006

      Thanks! That's pretty much what I was finding elsewhere, and I forgot to check wikipedia. I tell students that come into the library that it's a great place to start to look for more info, that can be verified elsewhere, but to not use it as an official source.

      Thanks Kelli!

    2. Do you have a clear idea of why you are trying to limit the HFCS? In another long HFCS thread it became apparent that for many the reasons had to do with its corn source, its production by big companies, and more a general fear of 'industrial' or 'chemical' products.

      As noted by Kelli, the key difference between corn syrup and HFCornSyrup is that some of the glucose is converted to another type of sugar, fructose. It can be as high as 90% fructose, though the version used in soft drinks has a nearly 50-50 ratio, so it has about the same sweetness as sugar. Keep in mind that sugar also consists of glucose and fructose, only that those molecules are bound together to form sucrose molecules. Various processes break sucrose molecules into the two components - such as acid solutions, and normal digestion.

      The other reason that people give for avoiding HFCS is the suspicion that it is unhealthy. Some claim that it causes obesity, though it is difficult to prove that it is any worse than sugar or low fructose CS in that regard. A diet high in soda pop is going to be fattening regardless of the sweetener.

      Some raise the issue of the glycemic index. This is a measure of how quickly a sugar is absorbed. In that index the simplest sugar, glucose, has a value of 100. Fructose and most complex sugars have lower indexes. If you are watching the glycemic index of what you eat, then LF corn syrup would be one of the worst choices.

      I would argue that from a nutritional standpoint, LF corn syrup is just as bad for you as HFCS. Limiting your overall sugar intake is a good target. It is less clear whether there is much point in putting extra effort into limiting these corn (or other starch) derived sugars.


      14 Replies
      1. re: paulj

        An aside to all of the HFCS info...many years ago I worked at a large bakery in their lab where they tested every product that was used. They had a very high quality control presentation and used butter and unbleached flour etc... and Honey. The reason I mention honey because they specifically tested honey for the presence of HFCS, because chemically the two are almost identical...the only difference being a ratio of C13 to C14 atoms.

        1. re: PaulaT

          Quoting from wiki on honey:
          "With respect to carbohydrates, honey is mainly fructose (about 38.5%) and glucose (about 31.0%)[3], making it similar to the synthetically produced inverted sugar syrup which is approximately 48% fructose, 47% glucose and 5% sucrose. Honey's remaining carbohydrates include maltose, sucrose, and other complex carbohydrates."

          There are different HFCS formulations, depending on the intended application. Ones intended for baking have a lower fructose proportion (42%?), ones intended as sugar substitutes are something like 55% fructose.

        2. re: paulj

          Another concern for HFCS and corn syrup is that 90% of American corn is a Monsanto GMO frankenfood creation.

          1. re: beau10

            Can you cite some unbiased, properly structured scientific studies showing that that should be a concern?

            1. re: johnb

              A concern from a political/economical perspective or a concern from a health perspective? Cause I can think of some good arguments for the former...

              1. re: cowboyardee

                beau10 used the term "concern" and I replied to that, so he/she needs to answer your question.

                But you're of course always free to present your arguments........., although I was requesting cites to scientific studies, not arguments.

              2. re: johnb

                This study is just one of many.

                My husband is a scientist in genetic toxicology for a pharmacetucial company.

                I sent this to him after a friend of mine sent it to me. He said the study is kind of "spotty" in the circumstances under which the data was collected, and there was one other thing that he questioned...but he stands by the reputation of the CRO labs which did the work
                I'm not a scientist (at all) but what I glean from this is that if you eat enough GM Corn products (or by products) that it could cause some health problems.
                I prefer to keep my food as close to its natural state as possible, so we no longer eat any commercially made corn products or byproducts anymore.
                I've swtiched to local honey and organic cane sugar for sweeteners.

                1. re: cgarner

                  I read through it quickly. They seem to be saying that the problems they observed (they never seem to say how severe these problems are as a practical matter) are most likely related to the herbicide residues and not the genetic changes in the corn. So if you are concerned about the use of GM to allow the application of herbicides and pesticides, which have left residues that are the actual cause of the problem, this study may support your concern (of course everybody knows that herbicides and pesticides are bad--that in and of itself has little to do with gene-splicing). However, it does not give much support any concern about the genetic modification itself (they say "it can't be excluded," but that is truly not saying much). Put another way, based on this study I see no basis to believe that if you raise GM crops and non-GM crops the same way, side by side, the results will be any different from a health standpoint.

                  1. re: johnb

                    Thanks for clarifying, Johnb
                    From an arricle I've read on
                    The corn is genetically modified to not be killed by oversaturation of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide.
                    The growing problem is much like in the overuse of antibiotics, there are now "roundup-resistant" weeds which some people in the Ag industry are contributing to the GM seeds themselves, cross polinizing with the weeds... they call it genetic transferrence. Monsanto of course denies the possibility of this, but they can't deny the new development of weeds which are becoming resistant to their brand of herbicide, so they make stronger herbicides and they create even more resistant strains of corn (or soy) to use along with their product.
                    I'd like to see the comparison of the long term health effects of the crops from Mom and Pop farmer who do not use these GM crops, who exercise responsibility in weed and pest management to the over-saturated GM crops

                    Corn bi-products are in so very many processed foods. The same corn which has been over-saturated with these super weed killers. Avoiding HFCS to me, is avoiding the GMO product AND avoiding the herbicides which are used on those products.
                    p.s I'm not a strict Organic Food consumer, but I do buy as locally as possible,from farmers who I can talk to about their use of herbicides and pesticies and I've greatly limited the amount of processed foods which I buy, and I read labels. I hate sounding preachy... it's something which I personally take very seriously, for the health of my family and in no way do I mean to impose my practices on anyone here.

                    1. re: cgarner

                      " The same corn which has been over-saturated with these super weed killers."

                      That kind of statement sounds more like rhetoric than science. Have glyphosates been detected in corn or corn products?

                    2. re: johnb

                      "So if you are concerned about the use of GM to allow the application of herbicides and pesticides, which have left residues that are the actual cause of the problem, this study may support your concern"
                      This is exactly why Monsanto modifies their seeds. Maybe not the only reason, but the main reason. It's not a peripheral issue. It is THE issue at the heart of the matter. If companies were only modifying seeds to be tastier and more nutritious, I wouldn't have any objections.

                      There's also the issue of farmers' rights to their own seeds.

                      1. re: cowboyardee

                        That's an excellent point. Yes you're correct, that's the main motivation that got Monsanto (a maker of agricultural chemicals) into the GM business.

                        Unlike you, many (most??) who object to GM do so in the belief that the genetic engineered change itself brings serious risks. The best that can be said for this position is that it lacks any scientific basis and is unproven. One may object to the use of pesticides/herbicides, and decry the use of GM to aid in that process, but that is not a basis to claim there is anything wrong with GM in and of itself. As you suggest, GM can be used to achieve many goals. Many of these may be worthy, while others may be viewed by some as less so.

                        1. re: johnb

                          I've seen another thread where people got all up in arms about modification (perhaps just old fashioned selective breeding, I'm not sure) of jalapeno peppers to make em less hot. While plenty of people objected, I was thinking how much I hoped someone would modify habanero peppers to make them less hot - they have such a great underlying flavor, but you can't use too many of them because of all the capsaicin.

                          GM in theory is just using modern techniques to do what farmers have always done. In practice, it has been abused by Monsanto, which I view as an aggressive, monopolistic company that is bad for American agriculture, American farmers, and American eaters.

                2. re: beau10

                  What are you going to do when GM sugar beets and sugar cane are approved?

              3. If you're wondering about the legal definitions of "high fructose corn syrup" and "corn syrup" as far as labeling is concerned, take a look at the FDA website. Or maybe you shouldn't -- it's enough to make your head spin, and as far as I can tell from the documents I found there, there are no clear guidelines about what can be called simply "corn syrup" as opposed to HFCS. But I did a *very* quick look-around.

                If you're trying to reduce added sugars, plain old corn syrup certainly qualifies, though it has a higher proportion of starch than other sweeteners. (I just took a look at the Karo syrup website and was surprised to find that although it has about the same grams of carb per volume as other sweeteners, less than half of that is sugar.)

                The other place to look is the nutrition facts label, which tells you the number of grams of sugar per "serving" (which is also defined on the label). This number includes both naturally-occuring sugars and added sugars lumped together, so it helps to have a general knowledge of where sugars occur naturally in various foods -- for example, 8 ounces of unsweetened yogurt contains 12-16g sugar in the form of naturally occuring lactose (less for Greek-style yogurts -- I think they're usually around 5-8g lactose in the same volume).

                Edited to remove some unneccessary commas. :-)

                5 Replies
                1. re: jlafler

                  That total grams of sugar is a good number to watch. Many 'natural' products end up replacing sugar and HFCS with a plethora of alternative sugars:
                  evaporated cane juice
                  invert cane juice
                  malt extract
                  rice syrup
                  natural brown rice syrup
                  concentrated fruit juices

                  1. re: paulj

                    Yeah, you have to look at the ingredients *and* the nutrition facts label. That's why I generally stick to foods with a very, very short list of ingredients -- too lazy!

                    1. re: paulj

                      Excellent listing, paulj. So many people assume that because these are considered "healthy" sweeteners, that somehow they don't behave like refined sugars in your body, when nothing could be further from the truth.

                      1. re: paulj

                        Well said. However, in addition, isn't it also true that all carbohydrates, eg pasta, rice, etc., have about the same caloric content per unit weight as sugar, which is also a carb? That's why, for example, the calories per serving (of a given weight) of a sugared cereal are not much different from an unsweetened cereal. Maybe the latter is "better for you" (or maybe not), but about the same calories either way.

                        BTW, AFAIK "evaporated cane juice" isn't an alternative--it's just plain old sugar--all cane sugar is I think evaporated cane juice. IE, complete misleading labeling to appear politically correct to the organic set.

                        1. re: johnb

                          Yes, as far as calories go, a carb is a carb is a carb is a carb. Starch or sugar, it's all 4 calories per gram. But that's per gram of sugar or starch, which is not the same thing as per gram of food -- most foods contain fiber and water, which contribute to the weight and volume. So, for example, a medium-sized apple (say, 4 ounces) has about the same amount of carb as 3-4 tsp of sugar, but weighs considerably more and is a lot more filling and nutritious.

                    2. I don't like this crap because it's everywhere. Food producers use it to extend the shelf life of bread, cookies, crackers, and other baked goods. Unless it's a dessert, I do NOT want my baked goods to be sweet. It's gotten so bad that I bake almost all of my own bread, a real PITA, but at least it tastes like bread and not a Pop Tart.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: pikawicca

                        This has been a real problem for years, and it's not limited to baked goods, or HFCS, by a long shot. Most commercial salad dressings for example have contained sugar, and later HFCS, for decades. What about sweet "pickles?" There are many other examples, both processed foods and home cooking. The American palate has become acclimated to sweetness in a very large range of foods that were once unambiguously savory. It's sad, really.

                        1. re: johnb

                          Why should there be a sharp division between savory and sweet foods? Is there a real basis for that, or is it largely a cultural preference? Does it cross cultures and times?

                          What are some non-contemporary American uses of sweet in non desert dishes? I can think, for example of Japanese seasoned vinegar, or a common Vietnamese dipping sauce? is a 16th c Italian recipe for pasta with caramelized oranges.

                          1. re: paulj

                            I agree with you on those specific cases, and could cite others, such as sweet/sour in many Chinese dishes, even authentic dishes in contrast to Chinese/American ones. And of course one can always argue that there is a cultural preference for x and therefore it is OK. In the Asian case, the availability of sugar as an ingredient has been historically much more limited than in the West, which probably explains why they never developed a dessert culture, and used such sweeteners as they had in different (and literally savory) ways. Nor am I saying that sweetness should never be an element in a savory dish. I enjoy the contrast as much as the next person.

                            My comment goes more to the shift that has so occurred so widely across the American food landscape. John and Karen Hess, IIRC, wrote about this. There has been a clear trend to add sugar to many things where it didn't occur previously, often to fool the palate and increase sales, to the point that sweeteners are added to just about any and all prepared foods these days. In other words, it has become universal, and that is the issue. Sugar is even sometimes added to salt. Salad dressings were the example I mentioned. I'm not talking about "congealed salads" but leaf salads. Most commercial salad dressings have sweetener. To me, sugar does not belong in a salad, and I suspect that the sweetness of commercial dressings is an important reason they are so commonly reviled by folks who typically post on Chowhound, as distinguished from the general public. But the human tongue likes sweetness, and we have allowed it to insinuate itself into every corner of our diet.

                            Of course, anyone can argue that that's what they like so it's OK. There's no objective way to argue against that.

                      2. Perhaps an aside, but at a recent lecture on gout, the four items that most often trigger acute attacks were listed as beer, yeast ( as Vegemite or Marmite ). sweetbreads, and HFCS

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                          Mayo clinic lists " certain foods, such as organ meats, anchovies, herring, asparagus and mushrooms.:

                          1. re: paulj

                            Yes, and being a Doc know that list well. This was a drug companies lecture on causes and treatements of gout, and the first time l saw HFCS identified as a causative agent. Again this list was of triggers not just high purine products.

                            1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                              How would they have identified HFCS as the trigger? Why HCFS and not sugar in general? Any suggested mechanism?

                              Presumably beer, and alcohol in general, can be a trigger because of it's dehydrating effect. Sweetbreads are high purines.

                              I suspect that best HFCS is a diet/lifestyle indicator, not the direct cause or trigger for conditions like this.

                              1. re: paulj

                                Actually, had thought beer was trigger because of active yeast, which is a trigger.

                          2. re: Delucacheesemonger

                            Sweetbreads seems rather odd as a frequent trigger. How many people ever eat sweetbreads, and among those who do, how often? How could you even pick up a correlation with such a small sample size? (Full disclosure--I have had one or two episodes of gout, and I like sweetbreads, but I can't even remember the last time I ate them).

                            1. re: johnb

                              Sweetbreads are just an example of an organ meat that is high in purines. Whether anyone actually connects eating sweetbreads with an acute attack is quite a different matter.