Is Sugar better than High Fructose Corn Syrup? by guest expert Margaret Wertheim (RD)

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has been in the headlines for quite sometime now for being the evil culprit in the increasing incidence of obesity and associated diseases. What is it, you ask? How different is it from sugar? For all the inside scoop, here’s registered dietitian Margaret Wertheim’s take on HFCS and what you need to know:

There has been much vigorous debate about whether high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is worse than sugar. The food industry has been quick to point out that sugar and HFCS break down to similar proportions of glucose and fructose. While this is true, I do believe there are concerns about the process of producing high fructose corn syrup – from the genetic modification of corn to the use of the toxic pesticides roundup and atrazine in the production of corn. The production of HFCS from corn involves many steps, though it remains a cheaper sweetener than sugar due the corn surplus in the US. This is why many processed foods contain HFCS instead of sugar as a sweetener.

HFCS and Sugar Breakdown in the Body

HFCS is about 55% fructose, 42% glucose, and 3% other sugars. Table sugar is made up of 100% sucrose, but is broken down in the body to 50% fructose and 50% glucose. Putting aside genetic modification and pesticide use, there is very little difference in how these two sweeteners are treated by the body. Increasingly research shows that fructose is a major culprit in the negative health effects of sugar by increasing triglycerides in the blood, potentially increasing risk for high blood pressure and insulin resistance, and promoting belly fat accumulation. The 5% difference in fructose content between the two sweeteners is likely insignificant.

Foods that contain HFCS

HFCS seems to be everywhere you look once you start reading labels. You’ll see it in most sodas, yogurt, ketchup, barbecue sauce, cookies, ice cream, candy, and even some breads. Make sure to read labels and avoid foods with HFCS in the ingredient list.

Sugar versus HFCS: Which is better?

Is a soda sweetened with sugar really any better than one sweetened with HFCS? One could argue that organic sugar is preferable to HFCS in that organic sugar is not treated with pesticides and or genetically modified. I would agree that organic cane sugar is preferable to HFCS, but the fact is that excess sugar still carries health risks like increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer. If you focus your energy on avoiding HFCS, but are still eating excess sugar, you are still doing your body a disservice. The bottom line is that both sugar and HFCS are problematic for health.

The Best Sweeteners

If you are going to have sugar, then honey, maple syrup, molasses, or dates in small amounts are better choices than refined white sugar. These sweeteners have nutrients and antioxidants in addition to their sweetness. Just remember that sweets with any type of added sugar are best saved for special treats.

Margaret Wertheim headshotMargaret Wertheim, MS, RD, LDN is a Nutritionist and Registered Dietitian (RD) and author of Breaking the Sugar Habit: Practical Ways to Cut the Sugar, Lose the Weight, and Regain Your Health. Margaret holds a BS in Biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MS in Nutrition from Bastyr University in Seattle. Margaret has written or been quoted in numerous articles on nutrition, such as in Kiwi magazine, Today’s Dietitian and on When she’s not writing or working with clients, you can find her doing yoga, gardening, riding her bike, or experimenting in the kitchen.

Breaking the Sugar Habit smaller

Learn more at where you would also be able to purchase her recently published book.

1 Comment
  1. Interesting article.

Leave a Reply