Appetite Effect of HFCS May Be Overstated

Written By: Gloria Tsang, RD

Title: Founding Registered Dietitian

Alumni: University of British Columbia

Last Updated on:

HFCS, the high-fructose corn syrup used as a sweetener in many kinds of soda, has been blamed by some as a main culprit in the ongoing obesity epidemic, because there were claims that it can increase appetite. But a new study casts some doubt on the link between HFCS and appetite boost.

No short-term link between HFCS and food intake was found

Researchers from the University of Toronto investigated the effects of a sugar solution, table sugar, HFCS, and other combinations of glucose and fructose in a small study. They found that HFCS did not differ from regular table sugar in its effects on appetite and food intake later in the day. The results of this study were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in November 2007.

Editor’s Note: Is HFCS to blame for obesity?

HFCS is made by modifying corn starch so that it contains a higher level of fructose than it would naturally. As a result, high fructose corn syrup tastes sweeter than refined sugar. Table sugar contains 50/50 fructose/glucose. HFCS used in soft drinks contains 55 percent fructose. HFCS is mostly found in soft drinks, fruit drinks, jams and jellies, as well as baked goods.

HFCS should not take all the blame for the obesity trend, especially when excess caloric intake is the real culprit here. Dietary guidelines recommend that we limit added sugars to about 8 teaspoons a day for an average 2,000-calorie diet. One bottle of soda alone contains 240 calories with more than 15 teaspoons of added sugars. Replacing these 15 teaspoons of HFCS with table sugar or honey is no better; it still contains 240 calories! Excess calories cause weight gain, regardless of whether they come from HFCS, honey, or fat.

The Bottom Line

HFCS is mostly found in foods with empty calories. Empty-calories foods generally refer to foods with high calories but low nutritional values. The best strategy is to replace these foods with nutrient-dense foods. For instance,

  • Instead of drinking soft drinks to quench your thirst, try water, low-fat milk or real fruit juice.
  • Instead of snacking on candies or cookies in mid-afternoon, try snacking on fruit with low-fat yogurt.
  • Instead of using refined grains, try whole-grain baked goods.


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