Difference between High Fructose Corn Syrup and Regular Sugar

November 22, 2016 by Editorial Team

Are you concerned about eating healthy food? This means you should start reading the labels on your food to ensure it has quality ingredients. Take sweets for example; most of them have sugar substitutes. Since sugar is bad enough for us that we’ve resorted to substitutes, we must ask the question: are these substitute products safer? Let’s start by defining sugar and another common sweetener, high fructose corn syrup.


Corn syrup

High fructose corn syrup or HFCS is a sweetener made from corn starch. Three different types of enzymes help turn corn into a sweetener. One goes in a mix of corn starch and water and breaks the starch down into shorter glucose chains. Another enzyme breaks these glucose chains into glucose molecules, thus producing the corn syrup. The third enzyme converts the glucose molecules of the corn syrup into a high fructose mixture.

HFCS is used extensively in the US and Canada because of subsidized corn production. Also, sugar prices are almost double in the States compared to other countries. In recent years, HFCS consumption has been linked to several medical conditions such as diabetes, cancer, obesity and fatty liver disease.

Granulated sugar

Sugar is a generic term for the substance we use to sweeten food. There are several types of sugars: sucrose, glucose, fructose and maltose. These are all soluble carbohydrates found in fruit, vegetables and honey (fructose and glucose), in milk (lactose) and in molasses (maltose). We refer to table sugar as sucrose, which is a mixture of fructose and glucose extracted from sugar cane or sugar beets.

A small amount of sugar in a person’s diet is not harmful when it comes from naturally occurring sources. The brain needs glucose to function and the amount of sugar in natural sources (such as fruit or honey) is enough for brain processes. Added sugar, however, comes in quantities that often surpass the daily recommended dose.

High Fructose Corn Syrup vs Regular Sugar

So what is the difference between high fructose corn syrup and sugar?

Sugar (sucrose) comes from plants and consists of glucose and fructose. High fructose corn syrup is also glucose and fructose, but these molecules are obtained by an intricate chemical process.

You will find sucrose on a supermarket shelf for purchase and home use. HFCS is only for industrial processors. It comes in a liquid form, making it easier to transport, store and to blend, and it is cheap. By comparison, granulated sugar is more difficult to store and blend. Also, it costs almost double in the US compared to other countries. High fructose corn syrup is the number one industrially used sweetener in America due to corn subsidies. It is in sodas, sweets, ketchup, pizzas, microwave dinners and many other types of food.

As far as how the body processes sugar and HFCS, there are notable differences. Technically, they both consist of fructose and glucose and break down the same way in the body, right? Wrong. This only goes for sucrose, whose fructose and glucose molecules (which are bound together) break down before absorption. In the case of HFCS, the ratio is 55-45 fructose to glucose (at least). These unbound molecules do not have to be digested to be broken down. This makes them more easily absorbed into the blood stream, leading to instant insulin spikes. Metabolic imbalances, heart diseases, cancer, diabetes and other medical problems can result.

HFCS is sweeter than table sugar. The highest concentration of fructose in the substance can be 90%. Since sugar in any form is addictive, people who get used to such a sweet taste can suffer from severe cravings. Also, excessive consumption causes obesity, liver and heart problems and diabetes. HFCS seems to expedite the process simply because there is a lot of it in processed foods compared to the amounts of table sugar we put in homemade food.

Studies from 2007 show the presence of mercury in one of the processes used to extract the corn starch. Although the results are not conclusive, researchers warned people against excessive consumption, especially in the case of children.

Comparison Chart

High Fructose Corn SyrupSugar
Made from corn through an intricate chemical processExtracted from sugar cane and sugar beet (sucrose); is found in fruit, dairy and malty beer
55-45 fructose to glucose, unbound molecules; can even have a 90-10 fructose to glucose ratio50-50 ratio of fructose and glucose in bound molecules
Requires no digestion for the molecules to be broken down; easier transfer into the blood streamDigestion breaks down the molecules; normal absorption
Liquid in formMost commonly in granular form
Cheap to make due to the corn famers’ subsidies in the USMore expensive in the U.S. than in other countries
Only available to processors in industrial quantitiesAvailable in supermarkets in the form of table sugar
Used in many types of processed foods because of its low cost and ease of storage and ability to be blendedNot popular with processors because it costs more, is not as easily blended into mixtures and it is not stored as easily
Sweeter than regular sugar because of its higher amount of fructoseHas a more balanced taste