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Sweetness Versus Science


Corn in the USA

The Science Behind America's Favorite Sweetener

The Debate

The Princeton Study

America's Return to Sugar


References & Links

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The Science Behind America's Favorite Sweetener


    The only thing that is not debated about HFCS is what it is. According to A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives, high-fructose corn syrup is corn syrup that has been treated with enzymes to make it sweeter (Winter, 279).  That is the simple definition. HFCS is quantifiably different from sugar because of its composition and complexity.  Table sugar or sucrose, when digested, breaks down into 50% glucose and 50% fructose.  HFCS is a mixture of fructose and glucose that are already separate and comes in several different concentrations: HFCS-42, HFCS-55, and HFCS-90; the numbers indicate the percentage of fructose content (Harvard Health Letter, 1).  This difference is the scientific basis for concern about America’s consumption of HFCS.

    Scientists and researchers reside on all levels of the spectrum between supporting HFCS and adamantly advocating against it.  All groups involved in the controversy have used scientific research as ammunition for their stance.  Additionally, the wide breadth of effects of HFCS that have been studied further complicates the battle between research findings.  For example, everything from mercury content in sodas containing HFCS to human metabolism of HFCS has been researched.  There have been many significant studies on HFCS.  Here is a list of some previous research findings that argue against HFCS, especially in sweetened beverages:

  • In April 2004, Bray et al. released findings arguing that increased consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity due to how fructose is digested, metabolized, and absorbed within the human body (Bray et al.).
  • In August 2007, Chi-Tang Ho et al. released research on the presence of harmful carbonyl compounds (they have been linked to complications in people with diabetes) in sodas sweetened with HFCS (Newswise). 
  • Research from the Duke University Medical Center was released in March 2010 that found that an increased consumption of fructose was associated with scarring in the liver (

However, these studies are only a small sample of the research done on all aspects of HFCS.  Many studies have also been released arguing no correlation between an increased consumption of HFCS and obesity or other health effects.  Here is a list of research that has found that high-fructose corn syrup is benign and unrelated to America’s obesity epidemic:

  • In June 2008, the American Medical Association released a press release stating that, “after studying current research, AMA today concluded that high-fructose corn syrup does not appear to contribute more to obesity than other caloric sweeteners,” (Sweet Surprise AMA Release).
  • In February 2007, Melanson et al. released a study that focused on short-term effects of HFCS intake in non-obese women. It found that the metabolic response to consuming HFCS does not differ from the body’s response to consuming sucrose (table sugar), (Melanson et al.).

    The debate around HFCS that Americans see on the news every day cites these and other studies but also involves many more actors than the scientists generating research on HFCS.  Studies on HFCS have become fuel for and against the use of HFCS in American food.  The next section will focus on the groups that are using science to prove their points.


Corn Sweetener Train Car

Figure 2: Corn Sweeteners Train Car, photo by boeke

Lab Rat

Figure 4: Lab Rat, photo by ressaure

Last updated:  5/7/2010


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