It was probably within the past two years that my husband came home from work and told me about one of his coworkers that stopped eating any foods with HFCS (high fructose corn syrup). I laughed and thought, “What a loon!”

Fast-forward to having a child and breastfeeding my baby. I started to have to supplement with a little formula when he was around six months old. One day I was looking at the ingredients of the formula and I noticed that HFCS was right up there in the ingredient list. That broke my heart!

As a mother, I just want my kid to get the best food possible with the least amount of cheap additives. And here my baby was so small and getting a lot of this corn product straight. Something felt wrong to me.

What do you know about HFCS? Are we overreacting about how it might change students’ classroom behavior?

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71 thoughts on “HFCS”

  1. No, we're not overreacting, we're underreacting. HFCS is in EVERYTHING. Corn allergies are on the rise (surprise, surprise). Children are experiencing a phenomenon called early childhood caries again (hasn't been seen much in the last 40 or so years). My best friend's son has this condition, even though they don't eat much sugar. HFCS is in GOLDFISH crackers, it's in Special K, every popsicle that's not 100% fruit, etc.

    It's completely maddening. Rant over. 🙂

  2. "The Omnivore's Dilemma" talks a lot about the USA replacing Central America in worshipping corn. It's quite stunning (the overall book, less so, because the Berkeley professor is pretty much an elitist). It's worth a read, though. The influence of corn and ways to use it, and how much it has been put into our food supply, are just stunning.

  3. From what I've been reading, it's basically just another sugar that is overconsumed. It's not that it's worse than other sugars, but the excessive consumption of any sugar can be worrisome, especially one particular type. Marion Nestle has a lot of good posts on HFCS at foodpolitics.com.

  4. HCFS is a horrible form of sugar that leads to major obesity issues, especially those genetically susceptible to such.

    I say government bans & uses corn for its actual vegetable properties (on or off the cob) and/or ethanol (alt. power source).

    Most kids LIVE OFF of HFCS!

  5. I had no idea it was even in baby formula– that's alarming…

    Now, I'm no nutritionist or chemist. I don't believe the propaganda coming out on either side of the issue. What I know is this: in Oct 2008 I gave up HFCS. It was just going to be for a couple weeks, as a silent protest over the lack of a decent grocery store in my poverty-stricken neighborhood. It's Feb 2010, and I'm still avoiding HFCS. Since I gave it up, I've dropped 75 lbs. After being overweight an out of shape my entire life, now I need a belt to keep up my size 2 jeans, and I'm just weeks away from running my first half-marathon. Like I said, I'm not competetent to comment on the science of HFCS, but eliminating it from my life has been one of the best things I've ever done.

  6. I don't know a lot about HFCS in terms of a nutritional/behavioral impact. However, since reading The Omnivore's Dilemma (totally fantastic book BTW) I have become concerned about HFCS in terms of an economical/policital impact. What the US has done in terms of subsidizing corn and making cheap food additives from it concerns me deeply. Apparently, practically every processed food has corn additives in them (even when it is not HFCS). Additionally, the move to corn fed beef is not natural and actually leads to more prevelance of e coli (the corn changes the pH of the digestive tract and allows the e coli to thrive and then it gets into the meat during processing) and requires the use of antibiotics to keep the cows well because eating corn makes them sick since their digestive systems have evolved to process grass not corn. So from that aspect I have tried to stop eating things with HFCS and other additives as much as possible.

  7. Regular sugar is just as bad, according to Dr. Robert Lustig:


    Ninety minute talk with hardcore biochemistry in the second half, but highly entertaining (if scary) and well worth the time.

    I'd also stay away from substitutes, natural or artificial. Even the taste of sweet can provoke your brain and body into the same kind of response as the real thing.

    Get rid of food subsidies! Then junk will no longer be artificially cheap, and its true cost will be revealed. As a happy side effect, it will also put an end to the grain and dairy cartels and make room for real farmers selling real food.

  8. I tend to agree with one of the above posters–it's not that HFCS is particularly worse than other sugars per se. Rather, it's that it is in EVERYTHING. It's so cheap because it's made with subsidized corn, so it gets put into products you'd never expect–and we overconsume it. Now in fairness, it is also a completely novel form of sugar that human animals have never encountered before. There is evidence on both sides that HFCS is either worse than or the same as other sugars, and all of that science is probably tainted with industry dollars, so I tend to ignore it. May well be worse than regular sugar, but certainly bad enough in it's current situation that we don't need MORE reasons to cut it from our diets. And when you cut HFCS, you also (almost by necessity) cut out processed foods overall, and their attendant chemicals. So it's a win-win, really.

  9. What I have found interesting is that HFCS is not permitted in foods in Switzerland. (I lived there for a bit.) So, for that market even Coke is made without HFCS. From my completely unscientific survey – Swiss are healthier than us. Of course, they walk more and generally get outside more than us too. Anyway, point is, what do they know that we don't? Or is it another case of corporate interests dominating government policy here?

  10. For the record, Goldfish do NOT have HFCS. The reason I know this is we gave up HFCS a year ago… Some research claims that HFCS is worse than naturally occurring sugars, especially for those predisposed to diabetes.
    My family has become quite educated on the vast amounts of HFCS in everyday foods. Our diet has improved simply by working to eliminate HFCS.
    My favorite blog on the subject by a 'real' mom: http://alifelesssweet.blogspot.com/

  11. A lot of people seem to think HFCS is "just like sugar." Then a while back this study came out. http://www.ehjournal.net/content/8/1/2

    From the abstract: High fructose corn syrup samples were collected from three different manufacturers and analyzed for total mercury. The samples were found to contain levels of mercury ranging from below a detection limit of 0.005 to 0.570 micrograms mercury per gram of high fructose corn syrup. Average daily consumption of high fructose corn syrup is about 50 grams per person in the United States. With respect to total mercury exposure, it may be necessary to account for this source of mercury in the diet of children and sensitive populations.


  12. Hi there, LOVE your blog! I think what you are doing is so wonderful. It's a small step for woman, a giant leap for humankind!

    The government subsidizes corn. Corn is, therefore, in nearly all processed food because it's so cheap. Have you seen the movie Food, Inc? It really amazed me what is made out of corn.

    As a nutritional lay-person, I noticed that I feel gross when I eat modified food. Ergo, I buy mostly fresh food and cook a lot. I don't always enjoy cooking, and I hate that our grocery bill is a fortune, but I feel that overall I'm improving my family's health and saving us money in the long run.

    Again, I really commend you on what you're doing. It seems so basic but it takes courage and foresight and thought! -Erika

  13. Slightly tangential, but it also feels very relevant: Jamie Oliver's TED talk on children's nutrition in schools is over here:


    Watch for the wheelbarrow full of sugar a typical child consumes in the first five years of school lunches from *milk alone*. Then note that HFCS is in their bread, in their juice, in almost any sauce found on their tray, in their fruit snacks, etc., and that's assuming they're eating the regular school lunch and not a fast-food stand-in.

    Also, I second the Lustig video above. It's long, but it's actually pretty engaging, and I think the point he's making is extremely important.

  14. I also thought it was a big deal over noting, until I started reading labels. There's no getting away from the stuff. It disturbs me that it has to be in everything…and formula, even though I am EBF, esp. breaks my heart. Why is it in **everything**?

  15. My group and I are currently creating an advertising campaign for a non-profit organization called Real Food Initiatives. Run by Chef Seth Bixby, The organization seeks to raise awareness about the quality of foods across the country. Bixby’s focus is to educate mothers on the healthy alternatives available for their children in school lunch.

    Seth has worked in the food industry since he was 11-years-old. Currently, he is an instructor at the Art Institutes International Minnesota in the culinary department.

    We have interviewed him numerous times and he often brings up HFCS. he calls it a poison.

    he has been on rachel ray and speaks to schools and to anyone that will listen

    go to realfoodinitiatives.com to learn more

  16. I avoid foods with HFCS because I agree with a lot of the above thoughts. Whether or not it's "worse" than sugar or causes obesity, I don't know, but I want to put as much real, natural food into my body and HFCS is definitely a lab creation. The best food is actually food.

  17. HFCS does not behave just like other sugars however. The difference between consuming something with sugar and consuming something with HFCS, is that your body understands sugar. Your brain will be triggered that it is sweet, it will understand how to break it down and when to say it has had enough (chemically speaking).

    However, your brain does not understand that HFCS is actually a sweetener. Yes, it may taste sweet but it never triggers anything that says we should stop consuming it, and our sugar cravings are never satiated. It (and caffeine) are why soda is so addictive. We want more because we never feel satisfied. If i was trying to market food to kids (and babies) and had money as my only motivation, HFCS would be the first ingredient in everything I produced. It is a cheaper and more addictive sugar. The perfect combo to bring in money and more consumers. Most people love cheap and sweet, regardless of what it is.

  18. I remember the first time I realized HFCS was in everything, it became the entry point for me to begin eating organic, whole, and local foods. It started my entire education on the way food works in this country, from corn subsidies to industrialized meat to exploited farm workers.

    Are we overreacting to it in terms of its health effects? Like a lot of other commenters, I don't know, because the research actually just isn't there. Every time an independent group does a little research into the negative health effects of HFCS, groups of interest release a contradictory report saying HFCS has no known negative health effects.

    Either way, I know I don't want to be eating it 24/7, and it takes a lot of effort (and, often, money) to avoid it.

  19. Oh, I despise HFCS. I further hate that there are commercials that try to convince us that it's not all that harmful.

    The thing that really turned me off was to find out that the corn used to make HFCS is virtually inedible. In its natural state, it tastes like poison.

  20. watch food, inc.
    watch king corn.
    and then watch killer at large: why obesity is america's greatest threat.

    corn is in EVERYTHING–cleverly masked behind multiple ingredient names. it's processed beyond belief and MOST non organic corn is a gmo. once you learn about the corn industry in america, you will want to rid your life of hfcs–i guarantee it.

  21. In baby food is shocking. I'm going to go check my can of formula now! It can't be in the powered stuff, right?

    The movie Food Inc. scared me with the genetically modified corn being fed to genetically altered cows. Cows naturally can't digest corn at all… but corn is cheaper… so we've made it so that cows can live on corn! Terrifying!

    GMO is illegal in europe, but a billion dollar a year industry for Monsanto and the corm and meat monopoly mafia.

    At least GMO should be on the label!
    Supreme court says we do not have the right to know that the chicken we eat has been genetically modified to mature in 35 days instead of 70. (faster than their bones can develop, so they can't walk)

  22. I was going to say what David said…and I'll repeat it here for anyone that just reads the last post/comment- HFCS is not the same as sugar. HFCS is metabolized in the liver which is much worse for your body.

    I found a good article here-http://www.sustainabletable.org/2009/09/hfcs-if-this-doesnt-convince-you-nothing-will/

  23. There is no overreacting, just reclaiming control. Knowing what we are putting into our bodies is our responsibility and one that so many have simply relinquished. Every bite, every sip, they all have an impact. I am aware of the things my kids eat at home, until it's no longer my choice they will have whole foods. The odd snack with HFCS won't be the end of the world if they aren't having it at breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, dessert and in every drink in between.

  24. "There is no overreacting, just reclaiming control. Knowing what we are putting into our bodies is our responsibility and one that so many have simply relinquished."

    There's the gem of wisdom to walk away with.

    Otherwise, … don't take this the wrong way everybody, but there's lots of confirmation bias, specious reasoning, and misinformation in the comment list, here.

    Mind that "sugar" (ie common table sugar), or "sucrose" is a glucose molecule and a fructose molecule joined together. Once sucrose hits your stomach and is split into its constituent sugars, metabolically speaking, it doesn't matter one iota whether what you've consumed is HFCS or table sugar, as most all HFCS is composed of a blend of glucose and fructose in nearly equal proportion.

    From the Wikipedia (sorry, but it's a convenient source):
    The most widely used varieties of high-fructose corn syrup are: HFCS 55 (mostly used in soft drinks), approximately 55% fructose and 45% glucose; and HFCS 42 (used in many foods and baked goods), approximately 42% fructose and 58% glucose.[6] HFCS-90, approximately 90% fructose and 10% glucose, is used in small quantities for specialty applications, but primarily is used to blend with HFCS 42 to make HFCS 55."

    The poison is determined by the dose.

    HFCS *is* in just about everything, but that's only because it's effectively gov't subsidized and dirt cheap for food manufacturers to use.

    Have no doubt that General Mills would happily sell you HFCS sweetened sawdust if they could (not far from the truth, in my mind).

    Pay attention to what you're eating – it's as simple as that. HFCS is not so much a problem because of what it is, but because, as Amanda points out, people have relinquished control.

    Good luck out there.

  25. I take it back.

    Almost forgot the context: school lunch.

    It's not "as simple as that" – certainly not for everybody, anyway.

  26. We're certainly overreacting to the amount of harm that HFCS has been proven to cause – it's simply a nearly-free substitute for sugar in the US. Noone else in the world uses it to the degree we do, because nobody else in the world has an influential political primary in Iowa.

    As far as the amount of harm that HFCS could potentially cause – other than diabetes, there are any number of subtle developmental disorders/trends that result from heavy consumption of one or another food in childhood.

    The body is affected by what you put in it, on average, while it's growing. HFCS isn't poison, and it's substantially similar to glucose, our body's basic food building block… but I'm not convinced that HFCS and a perfect crushed up multivitamin it is an adequate/harmless substitute for the mix of different types of carbs, proteins, fat, and various chemicals one would otherwise consume. I wouldn't put to much sway in adult harm theories, but from infancy? No way I'd use that shit.

    It's pernicious because it's in everything and nearly politically impossible to get good domestic studies done. For example, at this point it would be impossible to know if, hypothetically HFCS caused instant coma in 1% of patients after consuming precisely 100 kilograms of lifetime load. More subtle symptoms would just have no hope of being detected.

  27. I have been reading most of the comments above and I have to agree with most of them that state, in one way or another, that HFCS is horrible. It is in a lot of a products, because it is cheap and the government subsidizes it. The body has a problem with it and since we consume so much of it things are getting out of balance and become a poison to our bodies. In the end even a little bit of poison is still a poison.

    So, as a Nutritionist, I have to recommend that we should go back to use whole, live, natural, as close to nature as possible, good quality foods. This means that we should start cooking from scratch and that does not have to be that much of a problem or even that expensive. It is a bit of a change of pace, but hey, we are worth it and so are our children.

  28. Great thread!

    HFCS sucks, it has no place in our food, and most definitely not in foods we give to our kids. The more people that are aware of this the better. You will be surprised how many products this stuff is in! Actually one of the best ways you can remove junk from your kids diets is to avoid anything with HFCS in it. Not surprisingly, many HFCS products also contain tons of artificial flavors and colors and preservatives that are bad for the kiddos. The no HFCS screen will lead you to better choices, simple as that.

    Keep up the great work, JF

  29. I was allergic to corn products as a kid, and as a result, a lot of my "junk food" came from natural food stores because practically everything is made with corn syrup. I am more worried about the chemicals and toxins that are in so much of the packaging these days. we have had to stop eating chicken, because our blood showed high levels of arsenic. This is due to the antibiotics that they inject into the chickens to keep them healthy long enough until they kill them. They also spray the inside of metal canned goods to keep the bacteria from growing. All of these things, as more, effect our health.

  30. Just a tip for helping your milk production. Drink fenugreek tea. Fenugreek is an herb that helps with milk productio. Look it up on Wikipedia.

  31. I'm no scientist but I know that when our family eliminated HFCS from most of our diet I lost almost 15lbs without even trying.

    I have a severally autistic child and we have found that HFCS (especially in juice) aggravates his behavioral issues drastically. I mean to the point where his bus driver will notice and ask …. did somebody give him the wrong juice? And yes, we pack his lunch and send in bags of snacks just because I have found that the school district employees can't be trusted to help control his diet. I went in for a class visit last week and found him sitting at a table eating a Pop Tart that somebody had sent in for snacks. I took it from him and the aid looked at me and said "But he's so skinny! It won't hurt him!" It is very frustrating.

    I thank GOD for Trader Joe's every week now so that I can shop fairly easily without having to spend 30 seconds reading every label.

  32. I've only had time to read some of the comments, but as you research more and more on HFCS you will find you will IMMEDIATELY WANT TO REMOVE IT FROM YOUR LIFE. You cannot believe the commercials on TV that were placed there because alternative people were really spreading the word about the outright dangers of HFCS and the manufacturers were getting scared. Not only is HFCS a complete detriment the human body and causes so many more problems, especially in children's very sensitive and small systems. We've raised 5 incredibly healthy, right-weight, compassionate children who are now in their 20's and late teens with NO REFINED SUGARS OR FLOUR. People say "that's hard" Maybe so, but our children are worth the extra effort to keep their foods whole and nourishing. Anything foods that complicate the digestive process (yes meats fall into that category) compromise the body's ability to function. NO PROCESSED FOODS……the stuff is junk and nothing but junk – and it doesn't matter what the box says! We are not their customers, we are their numbers & profits…….


  33. I love reading your blog. I'm a 24 year old minimum wage worker, desperate to change my unhealthy eating habits. I grew up on the microwavable processed instant junk food my whole life and didn't realize how bad it was for me until I took some nutrition classes in college. My high school had McDonalds, Taco Bell, Pepsi and Pizza Hut. Now I just want to eat local natural eco-friendly foods and it's so hard when you've been raised on HFCS. Keep fighting for these kids- you're amazing.

  34. I love your blog. As far as HFCS, everything in moderation. If we would stop eating processed crap at every meal and start eating natural foods then HFCS wouldnt be an issue. It's all the precooked, prepackaged, preserved, pre-crap that we consume on a regular basis that is contributing to obesity. I have struggled with my weight since i was 9 years old. Only now at over 30 have i been able to manage it and discover what has been making me overweight – processed foods.
    On that note, in your pictures of your school lunch food I have not noticed many fresh fruits and veggies. THAT is what is wrong with our society. And why do schools allow crap? Because it's cheaper and easier to prepare. Nutritional value is considered last.

  35. There is a book available called "Fatland", I cannot remember the authors name. It describes how the body handles, or more importantly does not handle HFCS in detail. After reading this I have eliminated HFCS from my families diets. I also became aware of Palm Oil from this book.

  36. Check out the latest Better School Food newsletter. You'll find a link to a presentation about fructose by a pediatric endocrinologist, Dr. Robert Lustig.

    His presentation will show you that fructose (not just HFCS but juice also) creates metabolic mayhem in the liver.

    Click on the Almost Spring 2010 newsletter for the link.

    PS you are featured in the newsletter too!
    Keep up the great work.

  37. Although I haven't read ALL of the links, I have read through the posts and one thing I haven't noticed mentioned SPECIFICALLY about why it's a great source for obesity is that HFCS does something in our body. Yes, some have basically said simply start being aware of what you eat and that IS a gem of wisdom. However, for those not AS aware, they almost can't help becoming obese when consuming HFCS. When in the body, there are quite a few studies that show how it actually blocks what's called LEPTIN, a receptor in the brain that let's you know when you're full. Logically, if you don't know you're full, you'll keep eating, hence the obesity in America. Anything that messes with your body's natural systems in that manner IS poison.
    Oh, and let's not forget that in addition to avoiding HFCS, hdrogenated oils, and other unnaturals, add to that list bleached flour products.

  38. I'm not a mother, or a nutritionist, but I can tell you that fructose is dangerous. Have you ever heard of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or know someone who has stomach aches, constipation or diahrreoa regularly? Chances are it's fructose intolerance. The occasional piece of fruit is fine for most people, but concentrated fructose like that found in most American processed foods (thank goodness we don't have it here in Australia, though of course we have junk food) is really, really awful for you. I know someone who, after being diagnosed with a fructose intolerance, was finally able to control the stomach aches that saw her missing work, social events, and being afraid to eat. It's so much more common than you'd think. Don't be afraid of fruit, but do be afraid of added fructose.

  39. I probably don't have anything additional to add but I'd like to be one of the minority who suggest that HFCS is NOT significantly worse than sugar. Sucrose (regular old sugar) is composed of 1 glucose and 1 fructose. HFCS is composed of about 45% glucose and 55% fructose. As soon as either hits your digestive tract, they are virtually indistinguishable from each other.

    What *is* true is that HFCS is way cheaper than sugar due to massive corn subsidies. And that being so cheap makes it easy for companies to put loads of it in a product and charge you less money. They could make the same product with equal amounts of sugar and it would taste the same and be nutritionally equivalent, but it would cost you way more, and you might not buy it.

    If you choose to cut HFCS out of your diet, you will almost certainly cut most processed foods out of your diet, be forced to actually cook more, be more conscious of you are eating, and you will lose weight. It's not because you cut the HFCS out, though. It's because you have cut your overall calorie consumption and, likely, have reduced your consumption of fat, particularly trans-fat, which is legitimately bad for you.

    It's wonderful that people are attempting to make better decisions about what they eat but its a shame that there is so much misinformation.

  40. Related to HFCS — has anyone noticed how many food labels list "corn syrup solids" as an ingredient? To me that's like the difference between raw crystallized honey and melted liquefied honey. Same thing, different consistency.
    I mean that when I am reading food labels to avoid HFCS, I count anything with "corn syrup solids" as a food with HFCS.
    Other ingredients I tend to look out for are: bleached (refined) flour, and hydrogenated oils.
    My mom uses UNbleached whole wheat flour to make her own breads as she is diabetic and also has chronic diabetes-related heart disease, and therefore had to cut out salts, fats, and sugars, which unfortunately are present in even the "whole wheat" breads mass-produced for the supermarkets! She does have one canister in her cabinet, filled with refined flour, for the rest of us for our own cooking projects in which whole wheat flour is not suited (i.e. cakes, fish fry). To my amusement, she had labeled this canister of bleached flour as "Impoverished Flour". I think that says it all.
    Another dietary change I made was to have two kinds of table sugars in my household: the usual bleached white refined sugar for baking projects that call for large quantities of sugar, as I cannot afford to use the second kind of sugar in heavy quantities, that being turbinado sugar, also known as "raw" sugar. As my brother and I view it, it is REAL sugar.
    I save the raw sugar for my hot drinks like home-made cocoa and teas and coffee, and the occasional use in home-made chinese sauces and jams (I prefer minimal sugar in my jams, only just enough to cut any bitterness), basically if the recipe calls for half a cup of sugar or less, I use the raw.

    For those who are interested to understand the difference between white table sugar and the raw sugar, you can go to these links:




    On an episode of "Dirty Jobs", Mike Rowe worked at a sugar refinery. That was an eye-opener for me to see the process.

  41. Late last year, I more and more dismayed over finding high fructose corn syrup (and “regular” corn syrup) in everything—from ketchup and tartar sauce to rye bread. And I just knew it wasn’t me.

    Anyway, as I was flying to Houston to be with boyfriend for New Year’s, I saw an ad in the New York Times for Michael Pollan’s Food Rules. I made a mental note to get that book as soon as I could and it was an eye-opener.

    Since then, I have purged my fridge of all condiments with corn syrup and have done most of my shopping at Whole Foods—grass fed meats and pastured chickens, cold-pressed cooking oils and I can shop without seeing the dreaded HFCS among the list of ingredients for a given product.

    Now some people will say sugar is sugar, but from what I’ve read, corn syrup has a sweetness index of 140, while table sugar is 100. And besides, even if sugar is sugar, I don’t want it in every single thing I am eating.

    I’ve been losing weight and I’ve felt better than I have in a long time.

    And I can’t wait for the farmers’ markets to open this spring.

  42. I am weighing in late on this, but I think HFCS has a big impact on kids' behavior. It's more than just the HFCS, but also the "buddies" it hangs with: yellow #5, Red #40, MSG, BHA, white flour.

    I only have anecdotal evidence, but eliminating all the additives allowed my son to move from special education self-contained classroom to on grade level for math (still behind in reading) in two years.

    I also think the short lunches, and lack of movement throughout the day also may contribute to focus problems in school. Even adults seem to naturally need a break to walk around, change scenery, etc. every couple of hours.

  43. HFCS has been shown to be one of the foods that interferes with a developing brain.
    See Dr. Sears site for a list of foods that affect the brain and it's development.

  44. Corn syrup is absolutely evil. My family drinks very little soda. It has always been a treat. Not one of my three children, 14,12, and 8 have had a cavity; just went to the dentist last week. Anyway, check out the "Throwback" Pepsi, Mountain Dew, or Dr. Pepper. Made with real sugar, not corn syrup. We have noticed that it is very difficult to drink an entire 20 oz. bottle; one had lasted me for 3 days but with regular soda it is all too easy to slug an entire bottle down and still want more. There is definitely a reason for this.

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