Is high-fructose corn syrup worse than other added sugars?

Most people like sugar — it can be a nice treat, as long as we think of it as a treat — something we don’t eat much of or very often. It’s eating too much of it that is the problem, and that’s easy to do because sugar in many different forms is added to many food products to enhance their flavor.

High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is one of the most common added sugars. It is a liquid sweetener made up of corn syrup derived from the glucose in corn starch that has had enzymes added to turn some of that glucose into fructose — a type of sugar that is naturally part of fruits and berries. HFCS can be used instead of common table sugar and in the 1970s started being used by the food and beverage industry.

Because it has more fructose than corn syrup that starts as pure glucose, it is referred to as ‘high-fructose,' most forms contain either 42 percent or 55 percent fructose.

There are many types of sugars — on a food label anything that ends in syrup or –ose, such as maltose or glucose, is sugar. Some food products have more than one type and some sugar isn’t added, but occurs naturally. The fructose and lactose in fruit and milk respectively, for example.

The American Heart Association does not distinguish between types of added sugars — to your body they’re identical. Instead, focus on your total intake because eating too much added sugar leads to being overweight and obese, which are risk factors for diabetes.

Monitoring your intake

On food labels, sugars are recorded in grams under CARBOHYDRATES. All sugars have 4 calories per gram. So if a food product has 20 grams of sugar or HFCS or dehydrated cane juice or maltose, that’s 80 calories from sugar alone, not counting the other ingredients. As an example: a 12-ounce can of cola contains about 8 teaspoons of added sugar, for about 130 calories.

A food or beverage labeled “natural,” “healthy,” or “no HFCS” may still have some form of added sugar. Read the label and look for added sugars in the list of ingredients to be sure.

The American Heart Association recommends most American women should eat or drink no more than 100 calories per day (about 6 teaspoons) from added sugars, and most American men no more than 150 calories per day (about 9 teaspoons) from added sugars. On average, Americans are consuming much more than that, between 22 teaspoons (352 calories) and 30 teaspoons (480 calories) a day depending on the study.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

AD. American Heart Association logo. Know your blood pressure numbers. And what they mean. Gain Control. button: learn more.


AD: American Heart Association logo. American Diabetes Association logo. Know diabetes by heart logo. Living with diabetes? Inspire others. Submit story button.


AD. American Heart Association Support Network. Everyone's diagnosis story is different and sharing yours can help others. Join the Support Network and share your experience.


AD: American Heart Association logo. Symptoms. Always feeling tired isn't normal. Learn the signs of Heart Valve Disease.


AD. American Heart Association logo. Know your blood pressure numbers. And what they mean. Gain Control. button: learn more.


Edit ModuleShow Tags

Special Topic Supplements

Edit ModuleShow Tags


Heart News

Heart health news you can use about new scientific findings, public policy, programs and resources.


Articles, poems and art submitted by heart disease survivors and their loved ones.

Life's Simple 7

Improving your health is as easy as minding seven simple health factors and behaviors. Tips and information to help you improve your health and enhance your quality of life.

Life Is Why

Everyone has a reason to live a longer, healthier life. These heart patients, their loved ones and others share their 'whys'. We'd love for you to share yours, too!

Simple Cooking

Cooking at home can be a daunting task, but a rewarding one for your diet and lifestyle (and your wallet). Making small changes in your diet is important to your heart health. Here are simple, healthy and affordable recipes and cooking tips.