Whether your menu calls for glazed ham, hot oatmeal or blueberry pancakes, you have a repertoire of sweeteners to choose from. Sugar, brown sugar, honey, molasses, and corn syrup all have a place on the pantry shelf depending on the recipe and what roles the sweetener needs to play.

Food manufacturers have a similar catalog of sweeteners on hand, with some important additions – high-fructose corn syrups or HFCS for short. These sweeteners came of age during the 1970s when the food industry began to look for alternatives to traditional cane sugar and beet sugar that would provide similar sweetness, taste, and quality, but at a more economical cost. Today, HFCS syrups and sugar are the most common sweeteners found in a wide variety of products on supermarket shelves.

What is High-Fructose Corn Syrup?

Corn processors make high-fructose corn syrup from corn starch. The first step in processing is to make syrup from corn starch, which is nearly 100 percent glucose.

All the forms of HFCS are mixtures of two common sugars, glucose and fructose, and have no artificial or synthetic ingredients. HFCS-55 is the HFCS typically used in most beverages and foods. It is very similar to table sugar (sucrose) in composition – about half glucose and half fructose – which explains why they are comparable in taste and sweetness.

HFCS Uses in Food

Consumers will find high fructose corn syrups in numerous products, including yogurts, baked goods, canned and packaged foods, candies, jams, condiments, many beverages, and other sweetened foods. HFCS has many functional properties that improve foods and beverages. It enhances fruit and spice flavors, prolongs product freshness, aids in fermentation, provides product stability, and promotes cooked flavors and surface browning in baked goods. These functions are very similar to the roles that sugar plays in food preparation. As a liquid, HFCS offers the additional advantages of blending easily with other ingredients and easy pouring and mixing in beverages.

Consumption Facts about High Fructose Corn Syrup

As methods for producing HFCS improved, food and beverage companies replaced sugar with HFCS on a nearly one for one basis. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that today Americans consume approximately equal amounts of High Fructose Corn Syrup and sugar (note that total consumption has gone down). 

Functions of High Fructose Corn Syrup in Foods

  • Provides sweetness intensity equivalent to sugar.
  • Enhances many fruit, citrus and spice flavors in beverages, bakery fillings, and dairy products.
  • Preserves and protects food by reducing water activity in products such as jams and jellies.
  • Preserves texture of canned fruits and reduces freezer burn in frozen fruits.
  • Provides soft,moist texture allowing production of chewy cookies, snack bars, and other baked goods
  • Provides body and texture in beverages.
  • Imparts browning and flavor to baked goods, including breads, cakes, cookies, and breakfast cereals.

Health and Nutrition Facts

  • Safety. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved HFCS as a safe ingredient for use in foods and beverages. The FDA based its decision in part on the substantial similarity between High Fructose Corn Syrup and table sugar (sucrose).
  • Calories. High Fructose Corn Syrup and table sugar contain the same number of calories – 4 calories per gram or 16 calories per teaspoon. In fact, as carbohydrates,most nutritive sweeteners provide approximately the same number of calories per gram.
  • Metabolism. This term refers to how the body converts food into nutrients that can be used by the body’s cells to sustain life and growth. Tests have shown that HFCS, table sugar, and honey all are digested and metabolized similarly. This is not surprising since their compositions are similar.
  • Obesity. Excess body fat results when people do not balance their energy (caloric) input with energy output. No single food or ingredient is the sole cause of obesity. Rather, the combination of too many calories and too little exercise is the primary cause. Extra calories can come from all caloric nutrients – proteins, fats, alcohol, and carbohydrates, including starches and sugars, such as High Fructose Corn Syrup.

Some researchers have noted a correlation between increased consumption of High Fructose Corn Syrup and the rise in obesity over the last 30 years. However, a group of experts from the Center for Food, Nutrition, and Agriculture of the University of Maryland recently examined all the evidence and concluded that High Fructose Corn Syrup is not uniquely fattening and does not contribute to overweight or obesity any differently than other caloric foods.

The Bottom Line

High fructose corn syrup is a safe and important functional ingredient in many foods. All sugars, including HFCS, can be included in a health promoting diet if eaten in moderation.

The American Dietetic Association advises consumers that they can safely enjoy nutritive sweeteners when they are consumed as part of an overall diet. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that Americans give priority to ensuring that their diets provide enough nutrients while not overdoing calories. Once an adequate diet is assured, individuals should use balance and moderation in choosing sweetened foods and beverages or other caloric foods.

Source: IFIC

Did you know?

Corn syrup can be used for grass stains? Clean grass stains from clothes by rubbing corn syrup into the stains and then washing as usual.