Dear Mark: Food with HFCS?

Corn SugarDear Mark,

I’m interested in a list of all the manufactured foods that contain high fructose corn syrup. Also, is HFCS also used in wine making?

Thanks to reader Cheryl for this question. First off, let’s talk a bit about high fructose corn syrup. HFCS, as it’s known, is an omnipresent sweetener and preservative found in many/most processed foods. After corn is soaked and separated, sugar present in the cornstarch is processed (with the use of enzymes) to increase fructose content. Corn syrup is then added. The resulting HFCS contains some proportion of fructose to glucose depending on its intended use (typically 55:45 for soft drinks, 42:58 for many baked goods).

And why should we avoid HFCS (all versions, but do I really have to say that)? Because the intake of HCFS has helped unleash a plague of obesity, insulin resistance and even heart disease. I’m no fan of sugar in general, but HFCS has an especially menacing profile. Fructose isn’t processed by the body in the same way as sucrose. Instead of setting off a hormonal chain of events and responses involving insulin and leptin, which helps us regulate food intake, HFCS skips over this process. The body doesn’t recognize it in the same capacity. Hence, HFCS doesn’t “trip” the same switch to tell us we’ve had enough. (Another slurpee? Hit me.) Its processing in the liver results in an insidious elevation of blood triglycerides, and it’s more readily turned into fat storage. Finally, it’s been shown to impair the balance of minerals in the body.

And for anyone who argues that HFCS has just offered a cheaper, domestic-based sweetener alternative to regular sugar, the answer is that HFCS hasn’t really been an alternative. Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, says that HFCS has generally added to Americans’ intake of sugars rather than replaced them. In other words, we now eat almost as much regular sugar as we used to, but now we inhale a whole other stream of sweetener in our daily diet, most of which is “hidden” in common processed foods. Talk about sugar shock.

This ubiquitous, heinous lurker of an ingredient is found in foods you’d never suspect were even sweetened, like bread, tomato paste, and pickles. Check out our previous post on the sneaky syrup. Also, check out the two sites below. They were the most comprehensive I could find. If anyone has a better list hit us up with a comment. The trouble with a list of this nature is that a) the list would go on ad infinitum and b) would have to be updated in real time to stay current with all the new food products being pumped out each day that use HFCS. Your best bet is to just check the ingredients before purchasing anything packaged, bottled, wrapped or otherwise processed.

Fast Food Facts – HFCS

Accidental Hedonist List of HFCS grocery store foods

Finally, the kicker? “USDA Organic” foods can contain them as well. HCFS made from organic corn is, well, organic! It’s considered a natural ingredient. Never mind that it’s one of the least healthy things you can put in your body. This is why I always say choose “whole” foods first and then organic versions of them if you can. There’s a lot of “organic” processed crap out there, and people pay a premium for it.

As to whether HFCS is used in wine, I can only say that I’ve never seen any and can’t even fathom it. If someone can give me an example, I’ll have seen it all.

The bottom line:
the pervasiveness of HCFS is yet another reason to avoid processed foods entirely.

Thanks as always for your questions!

Comments? Suggestions for future Dear Mark posts? Send ‘em on!

boeke Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

8 ‘Health Foods’ that Contain HFCS

On the Question of Sweeteners

What Happens to Your Body When… You CARB BINGE?

Mold: Why it Tastes Like Chicken! (and other mystery ingredients)

Livin’ La Vida Low Carb: HFCS not ‘Mischaracterized,’ but Nailed

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About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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15 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Food with HFCS?”

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  1. “Fructose isn’t processed by the body in the same way as sucrose. Instead of setting off a hormonal chain of events and responses involving insulin and leptin, which helps us regulate food intake, HFCS skips over this process. The body doesn’t recognize it in the same capacity.”

    Yes, but HFCS is only roughly 50% fructose–the other half is glucose, which *does* set off the hormanal chain of events etc etc.
    Fructose and *glucose* differ, which is what the linked article says.
    HFCS = fructose + glucose.
    Sucrose = fructose + glucose (bonded together). Once sucrose gets into the mouth and stomach, the bond gets broken (by saliva and stomach enzymes) and becomes fructose + glucose.

    They make fructose sound so bad, but in nature, fructose almost always comes with fiber, water, and a load of micronutrients/antioxidants (in the form of fruit and veggies). If you process out the fiber and micronutrients, then, well, fructose by itself is usually pretty bad. But pretty much the same can be said of sugar, and starch.

    I agree that both HFCS and sucrose should be avoided, but HFCS isn’t neccessarily less “natural” than sucrose–they’re both processed pseudo-foods. Avoid HFCS just as you’d avoid any processed foods that have added sugar.

  2. Dear Mark,

    My husband and I really enjoy your site!

    On HFCS — I heard it really contributes to abdominal fat. Is that why we see so many people (including young people), who are otherwise not particularly chubby, but have a pronounced spare tire encicrling their entire waists? It’s such an odd body type and seems to be becoming very common.

  3. Mark, I can’t agree with you on this one. HFCS, in and of itself, is really no worse than sugar if we’re looking at fructose content. HFCS-55 is 55% fructose and 45% glucose. Table sugar is 50/50. Honey is 50-55% fructose. Agave nectar can be up to 90% fructose, yet people think these “natural sweeteners” are so much better.

    The real detriment of HFCS is in your third paragraph…it’s cheap and is added to *everything*. It’s not HFCS per se, it’s that there’s just…so…much…sugar in our diets. Of course, HFCS is highly processed, but then again, so is sugar.

    I wrote a post awhile back on my site about the various sweeteners.

    Scott Kustes
    Modern Forager

  4. Ask yourself why I can’t buy HFCS if it’s so good for you? Can you say to someone, hey I noticed we are low on HFCS, pick some up next time you go to the store. Ask yourself if we are being told HFCS is not bad for our bodies and it’s in practically all processed foods now, why do they use sugar in baby food not HFCS?

    When they have a national news report on how public schools should deal with so many kids with food allegories, how come no one is asking why food allegories along with diabetes in children are at epidemic proportions in this county?

    Sure we have all heard that we have become a sedentary society and I agree that is part of the problem but only to a point. The real problem is no one wants to or they do not have the time to prepare meals anymore and eat fresh food; we want to just take it out of the box. The problem is not only HFCS, its corn in general. Almost all refined packaged products in the U.S. have corn in them, why? We think it’s normal now to keep a loaf of bread for two weeks and not have it go stale. Remember, basic bread has only four ingredients…humm we have strayed of the course a bit on that one.

    Here is the answer, if you read the ingredients of something and it takes a chemist to figure it out…don’t eat it. If it sounds bad, it is bad.

  5. *Yes, but haven’t you seen the commercials? It’s as safe as sugar in reasonable quantities! It says so! Right there on the television!