Should Foods with High Fructose Corn Syrup Carry Warning Labels?

Written By: Sofia Layarda, MPH

Title: Master of Public Health

Alumni: University of California, Berkeley

Last Updated on:

A recent study from the University of Southern California and the University of Oxford found that countries with high fructose corn syrup in their food supply have a higher prevalence of Type 2 diabetes. With that in mind, should we start labeling food products that contain high fructose corn syrup?

High Fructose Corn Syrup and Type 2 Diabetes

The study looked at 42 countries and found that Americans have the highest per capita consumption of high fructose corn syrup in the world: an average of 55 pounds per person per year! The next-highest high fructose corn syrup–consuming nation is Hungary, at 46 pounds per capita. Other nations with high levels of consumption include Canada, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Belgium, Argentina, Korea, Japan and Mexico. All these countries have a higher incidence of type 2 diabetes! Countries with lower levels of consumption (less than 1.1 pounds) include Australia, China, Denmark, Italy, Sweden, France, India, the United Kingdom, and Uruguay.

Where You’ll Find High Fructose Corn Syrup

High fructose corn syrup is often found in soda, which most people know to be junk food. However, because high fructose corn syrup is cheaper than table sugar, it has made its way into many other food products – even those with a “healthy” reputation, such as yogurt, breakfast cereal, salad dressing, or crackers. Look closely at sweet items on the store shelves such as jam, as well as dessert-type products like baked goods and even cranberry sauce!

More HFCS in Soda Than We Thought

Another concern raised by the USC and Oxford researchers is that the fructose content in some popular U.S. soft drinks was about 20% higher than expected, which means some manufacturers may be using high fructose corn syrup with much higher fructose content than previous estimates. Fructose is not disclosed separately on food labels, making it difficult for consumers to accurately calculate or identify how much fructose they are actually consuming from these processed food products.

Just to clarify, the study found that the average prevalence of type 2 diabetes in countries that use high fructose corn syrup is 8%, compared to 6.7% in countries that do not use high fructose corn syrup in their food supply. So, the high fructose corn syrup is not the only factor leading to type 2 diabetes. However, it could be an important contributor: Here is a more detailed comparison between high fructose corn syrup and table sugar and ways to spot high fructose corn syrup in foods.

The Bottom Line

We have previously pointed out that the issue with sugar is that we are consuming too much of it. But, we would do well to cut out our total intake of all sugars, not just high fructose corn syrup. If warning labels were put on foods containing HFCS, they would likely make the most difference for food products typically perceived to be “healthy.”

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