If you've heard anything about high fructose corn syrup (HCFS), we're betting that it was some kind of warning. Is this common ingredient really so dangerous, or is this just another case of excessive health alarmism?

As its name suggests, high fructose corn syrup is derived from corn starch, which is first broken down to create glucose and then treated with enzymes that convert much of that glucose to fructose.

The resulting "high fructose corn syrup" usually contains between 42 percent and 55 percent fructose. More concentrated forms that contain up to 90 percent fructose do exist, but these are seldom used commercially because they are too sweet to be useful.

Though glucose and fructose are both sugars and have a similar calorie content, there are some differences in how our body processes them. While glucose can be metabolized throughout the body, fructose can only be metabolized by the liver.

When the liver gets overloaded with fructose, this fructose is more likely to get turned into fat than glucose would be, potentially contributing to obesity, heart disease, and fatty liver. So you can probably guess why the idea of a higher fructose sugar product freaked some people out.

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However, high fructose corn syrup got its name not because it generally has much more fructose than sugar, but because it has much more fructose than untreated corn syrup. In fact, table sugar or "sucrose" is made up of about 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose, a nearly identical ratio as found in most forms of high fructose corn syrup.

Despite the two's nutritional similarity, it may still be possible that high fructose corn syrup has a different nutritional effect on us than sucrose does. One mouse study found that mice fed a corn-syrup-like fructose-glucose mixture had almost twice the risk of death than mice fed sucrose. Some studies have also correlated the increase in HFCS consumption with the rise in obesity while other experts suggest that the difference between corn syrup and sugar has "no relevance to the human diet."

Even in the possible case that HFCS isn't any worse for us than sugar, that doesn't mean it's at all good for us, and the negative effect it has had on our health over the years may have been a less direct one. Though sucrose and HFCS are similar in composition, HFCS is a liquid that doesn't need to be dissolved in water like sucrose does, making it easier to add to processed foods.

Because HFCS remains cheaper than sucrose, manufacturers have also been more inclined to add it to their processed products, making food in general more addictive and helping to turn us all into a bunch of out-of-control sugar junkies. There's also the danger that even someone health-conscious might not recognize HFCS as a form of sugar on an ingredient list.

Yet while the jury is still out on how much worse HFCS is for us is than sugar, the health community is in agreement that added sugars in any form are incredibly detrimental to our health. Though added sugars in our diet come mostly from store-bought foods, even seemingly healthier sweeteners like agave nectar, maple syrup, and honey can still be unhealthy when consumed in excessive quantities.

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Experts recommend consuming no more than six to nine teaspoons of added sugar per day, a limit you'd reach after drinking only one 16 oz sugared coke. In contrast, to consume 50 grams of sugar naturally, you'd have to eat four medium oranges, two and half medium apples, seven cups of strawberries, or three grapefruits.

The good news is that you can get plenty of natural sugars in foods like fruit and yogurt and natural sugar substitutes like stevia, so even once you've completely the 123Diet, there's no need for you to use added sugar at all! Instead of quibbling over whether high fructose corn syrup or sugar is worse for us, let's just keep our distance from both.

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