Does High Fructose Corn Syrup Cause Weight Gain?

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High Fructose Corn Syrup, defined

High Fructose Corn Syrup, hereafter referred to as HFCS, is a liquid sweetener made from corn to replace sugar in food.  HFCS is made when corn syrup is put through an enzymatic process which results in HFCS.  It is a sugar substitute, not an artificial sweetener.  HFCS can be found in many common foods such as yogurt, bread, cereal, canned fruit, and soft drinks.  For a more in depth review of how it is made, please visit this article on Wikipedia.

Does High Fructose Corn Syrup cause weight gain?

According to the Corn Refiners Association website Sweet Surprise, HFCS does not contribute to weight gain.  The Sweet Surprise website quotes the American Medical Association as saying that HFCS “does not appear to contribute to obesity more than other caloric sweeteners” and the American Dietetic Association as saying that HFCS is not a “unique contributor” to weight gain.

You can visit the website for the American Medical Association (AMA) and check out Report 3 of the Council on Science and Public Health (A-08) The Effects of High Fructose Corn Syrup.  This report states “the adverse health effects of HFCS, beyond those of other caloric sweeteners, most of which contain fructose, are not well established.”  That statement seems to back up the quote found on the Sweet Surprise website. 

However, in the conclusion of this report, the AMA states “it appears unlikely that HFCS contributes more to obesity or other conditions than sucrose. Nevertheless, few studies have evaluated the potentially differential effect of various sweeteners, particularly as they relate to health conditions such as obesity, which develop over relatively long periods of time. Improved nutrient databases are needed to analyze food consumption in epidemiological studies, as are more strongly designed experimental studies. At the present time, there is insufficient evidence to restrict use of HFCS or other fructose-containing sweeteners in the food supply or to require the use of warning labels on products.”  (Italics mine.) 

This makes the quote on the Sweet Surprise website a little less meaningful doesn’t it?  Just reviewing the quote on the Sweet Surprise website alone, you can be left with the impression that HFCS has been reviewed and deemed safe by the AMA.  By reading the actual report from the AMA, you see that is in fact, not the case.  The AMA is simply stating that there has not been enough research as of yet to determine the effects of HFCS on weight gain.

By visiting the website for the American Dietetic Association (ADA), you can view Position of the American Dietetic Association: Use of Nutritive and Nonnutritive Sweeteners.  This study requires you to view it in Adobe Acrobat.  On page 13 of the study under the subheading Obesity, you can read this quote “Although an association can be shown between intakes of sweeteners and body weight, there is no current evidence supporting a “direct link” between increasing obesity and increasing sweetener intakes independent of energy intakes.”  Again, this seems to back up the quote stated on the Sweet Surprise Website.  However, the next line states “Nonetheless, there is speculation that high intakes of fructose (particularly in the form of sweetened liquids) increase energy intake and obesity risk through the blunting of circulating insulin and leptin levels.”  And finally concludes that “consumption of sucrose and fructose in the forms of sweetened beverages may also promote weight gain because liquid forms of energy may be less satiating.”  Once more, you are forced to think twice before taking the Corn Refiners Association at their word.

So what’s the answer?

HFCS may or may not be bad for you.  There are many of the opinion that it is a terrible thing, and that it leads to obesity and diabetes, and problems stemming from being obese or diabetic.  There are others like the Corn Refiners Association, who insist it is healthy, non-threatening, and a viable option to cane sugar.  The real answer is that we just don’t know enough at this time to come to a reasonable and well backed up answer.  With the AMA and ADA encouraging independent studies, hopefully there will be a something definitive soon.  In the mean time, you can use moderation and encourage others to do the same.

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