I wrote here on the reason why fructose (as an ingredient in processed foods) is not a healthy choice compared to sucrose or glucose. In a nutshell, your body can’t use fructose for energy, so it goes straight to fat. On top of that, it doesn’t signal your brain that you’re full, so you keep eating, and it is highly correlated with insulin resistance. Fruit in moderation is fine, as fructose in fruit is complexed with fiber and other compounds; but fructose extracted from fruit and used as a sweetener in other foods is not a healthy choice.

High Fructose Corn Syrup is another beast altogether.

What High Fructose Corn Syrup Is

High Fructose Corn Syrup is chemically extracted from corn (hence the name). It’s not pure fructose; rather, like table sugar (sucrose), it’s got glucose in it as well, and in almost the same ratio. Unlike table sugar, though, the glucose and fructose in HFCS are not bound to one another. This means even more rapid absorption: all the negatives of sugar, yet even worse.

If that weren’t bad enough, this study shows that HFCS is often contaminated with mercury, a toxic heavy metal.

From an economic perspective, part of the reason HFCS is so concerning is because it is both cheaper and sweeter than sugar—six times sweeter, in fact. This encourages manufacturers to use more of it, and use less of the good natural sweeteners. As a result, the average American consumes about 50 grams of HFCS per day.

Think These are “Healthy?” Where HFCS Hides

If you consume a lot of processed foods, you are probably part of that statistic. But here are a few you might not have thought of:

  • Salad dressings. I’d list brand names but there are just too many. Don’t negate your healthy salad with a dose of HFCS on top. Read your labels.
  • Capri Sun: if you were thinking these were healthy because they’re fruit juice, think again. They’re 0% juice. While you’re at it, read labels on all “fruit juices”… and limit them anyway, because we established here that fructose outside of a piece of fruit isn’t a healthy choice.
  • Yoplait yogurts. You probably thought you were doing yourself a favor with the probiotics, right? Most of the commercial yogurt brands are actually full of crap. Again, read your labels. 
  • Special K cereal. I know they advertise the fiber and whole grain on the front, but you can almost bet that any mass-marketed cereal is going to be full of junk. 
  • Whole grain breads. Even if they’re 100% whole grain, like Sara Lee Heart Healthy 100% Whole Grain Bread, they usually contain extra sweeteners… and the more popular and well-known the brand, the more likely they contain HFCS too. It’s pretty nefarious, I know.
  • Nutrition or Breakfast Bars. Just because they say they’re good for you on the label doesn’t mean they are. Read your labels.

The Upshot:

I imagine you’re getting the point by now, but read your labels and avoid HFCS, or anything that says “corn syrup” even if it doesn’t say “high fructose” in front of it.