Nutrition Mythbusting: Sugar vs. HFCS

Ladies & Gentleman, Let’s get ready to RUMMBBLLEE!!

Tonight we are going to talk about the evil and awful high fructose corn syrup and the less evil, but still evil, sugar.

corn vs sugar

In the left corner,  dressed in white and ready to be put in your coffee is SUGARRRRRR.

In the right corner, dressed in green husk, ready to be milled is high fructose corn syrup…..

The Profile: Table Sugar (Sucrose)

The left corner has come under quite a bit of scrutiny in the past few years.  If you remember high school biology, we learned the building blocks of carbohydrates are 3 molecules known as monosaccharides. They are glucose, fructose, and galactose.

When you combine two monosaccharides together, you get a disaccharide.  Table sugar (also known as sucrose or cane sugar) is a combination of glucose and fructose.  It is essentially glucose connected to fructose in a 1:1 ratio, meaning sucrose is comprised of 50% glucose and 50% fructose.

So far so good?

The Profile: High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

The right corner has gotten absolutely abused in the past few years. HFCS is a liquid blend of both glucose and fructose.  It is sweeter than table sugar, and because it is very cheap to produce, it is commonly used in food products. The reason why HFCS is a liquid, rather than a solid like sugar, is liquid sugar gives food manufacturers several important benefits:

  1. It’s easier to transport and handle in liquid form.

  2. It has certain advantages in baking, browning, and fermentability.

  3. It retains moisture after baking or cooking, making foods more eatable and enjoyable

  4. And perhaps most significantly, it allows the proportion of glucose and fructose to be adjusted.

The Profile Differences

Here is where they differ.  In HFCS, the fructose content, which generates most of the sweetness, varies between 42-55%.  The most common is called HFCS 55, which is 55% fructose and named accordingly.

That’s it.  The difference structurally is very small. Sugar is 50% glucose and 50% fructose, whereas HFCS is 45% glucose and 55% fructose.

You don’t have to be a scientist to understand that is not a significant difference.

Comparing Punches

Comparing Punches: How does the body consumer each?

So let’s compare how our body digests both. This is probably the reason HFCS has gotten such a bad rap.

Let’s start by taking a step back to learn a few important facts about digestion.

Our digestive system is pretty amazing.  The second we start eating something, our body recruits enzymes to break the food down so we can extract nutrients from it.

When we eat sugar, our body releases an enzyme called sucrase.  Sucrase breaks any sugars that are bonded (like we learned above) into individual component parts (monosaccharides).  Anytime we consume sugar, it is broken apart into free glucose and fructose prior to intestinal absorption.

Because HFCS is already broken apart, the body doesn’t have to break it apart.

Regardless, because HFCS and sugar are both made up of glucose and fructose, our body detects the sugars the same way.  Therefore, our body digests both the same.  The only difference is the relative amounts of fructose (50% in sugar and 55% in HFCS).

Comparing Punches II: How does each affect satiety and weight loss/insulin?

This is where they have to differ.  Definitely. This has to be it.

Let’s go to the tape.


Both sugar and HFCS have been found to have the same effect on how full you feel because they interact with leptin, a major regulator of the feeling of fullness, in the same way.

Weight Loss

In a double blind study, four groups of people were put on a weight loss program, using a caloric deficit of 500 calories.

Two groups consumed 10-20% of their calories from sucrose (sugar), while the other group did the same with HFCS.  These levels were chosen to mimic the 25th and 50th percentile of average American intake, respectively.

The results are quoted verbatim from the study:

“The metabolic response by the body, in reference to mostly leptin and insulin, appears to be the same between sucrose and HFCS when both sugars are given in similar oral doses with no gender influence as the lack of difference has been noted in both healthy males and females.”

More importantly, the panel that conducted the study concluded (again quotes verbatim):

“Currently, it has been concluded (expert panel) that HFCS and sucrose do not have different influences on body composition and obesity (both being of comparable innocence or blame, depending on context).

Independent of whether or not sugar in general influences obesity and weight gain, sucrose and HFCS have no significant differences in their effects on the body.”

Let’s bring this home

What we have learned today is:

There are only tiny differences between the most common type of high fructose corn syrup, HFCS 55, and regular sugar.

  1. When we digest sugar or HFCS, the result is exactly the same.

  2. Whether sugar or HFCS, both affect satiety, insulin production, and weight loss the same.

In it’s simplest terms, sugar is sugar. Whether that is HFCS or sugar, does not make a difference.

What’s really important

Even though I writing about what the nutrition industry holds up on a pedestal, empowering you with information that combs through the BS is what’s really important.  More importantly, I want you to be able to make a better decision when it comes to your personal nutrition.

Most nutritionists, dietitians, and so-called experts argue small perforations of microhealth just to have something to talk about.  Like we just proved, these arguments have very small, if any, effect on your health, body composition, and overall well being.  When it comes to making a decision over whether you should eat something or not, defer to:

  1. Your tastebuds

  2. Your goals

  3. Your macronutrient breakdown

Don’t listen to the all the garbage that the internet has to offer.  Nutrition is not a “one size fits all” science. What’s right for you may not be right for someone else.  Beware of nutrition articles written from extreme points of view, even if they appear scholarly and contain impressive statistics, they do not help you smash bigger weights or look better naked.

Most importantly, listen to your body.  It is very easy to get caught up reading 100 articles with 100 different arguments on a single topic.  It’s enough to make your head explode.

I hope you enjoyed this article.  I would love to hear your feedback in the comments.

Beyond this Article (For the crazies)

Sugar-based sweeteners are considered very unhealthy, not in their root form, but because of the actual amount Americans consume.  These sweeteners, as we learned, use fructose to sweeten soft drinks and processed foods.  The liver is the only organ that can metabolize fructose in significant amounts. When the liver gets overloaded, it turns the fructose into fat.

Some of that fat can lodge in the liver, contributing to fatty liver,  insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, obesity, and type 2 diabetes, to name a few .

Going into all the harmful effects of excess fructose is beyond the scope of this article.  You can read more here.

About the Author ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Nissim, Joe About the Author Pic

Joe Nissim is the founder and CEO of Strengthlete.  After leaving a lucrative career on Wall St, Joe spent three years creating and developing the Strengthlete Nutribuild system and flagship products Repair and Complete. If you’re interested in leaving dieting behind for good, join Joe