Does High-Fructose Corn Syrup Cause Weight Gain?

Could cutting back on high-fructose corn syrup lead to weight loss? What do studies say about the link between the sweetener in diet and weight gain?

High-fructose corn syrup increasingly has been linked to the surge in U.S. obesity rates over the past 40 years. But is this notorious reputation deserved? Could cutting back on consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in one’s diet lead to weight loss for millions of Americans?

Introduced four decades ago, high-fructose corn syrup has become the sweetener of choice in many processed foods for one major reason: it’s cheap. The ingredient is especially likely to be found in:

  • bread
  • cereal
  • fruit juice
  • ketchup
  • mayonnaise
  • soda
  • yogurt

But in recent years, critics have charged that high-fructose corn syrup may be uniquely responsible for a sharp increase in weight gain among Americans over the past four decades.

As use of the sweetener increased in the U.S., the rate of obesity nationwide also soared. In the early 1970s, about 15 percent of the U.S. population met the necessary criteria to qualify as obese, according to the CDC. Today, that number has jumped to around one-third of the population.

Science Looks at High-Fructose-Corn Syrup

Scientists have been trying to resolve the question of whether excessive intake of this sweetener in one’s diet is a major contributor to weight gain. Initial research appeared to indicate a link between consumption of beverages sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup and higher rates of obesity.

However, more recent research casts some doubt on this conclusion – although, as nutritionist Katherine Zeratsky points out, the beverage industry supported at least some of these latter studies.

The controversy became further muddied in March 2010, when scientists at Princeton University announced the results of a study in which rats that consumed high-fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than rats with access to table sugar.

The Corn Refiners Association of America immediately attacked the study, citing what it said were “gross errors” in the research.

Meanwhile, the American Medical Association has stated that high-fructose corn syrup does not appear to contribute to weight gain more than other caloric sweeteners. The American Dietetic Association also has stated that “no persuasive evidence supports the claim that high fructose corn syrup is a unique contributor to obesity.”

Cutting Back on High-Fructose Corn Syrup

While the debate about the link between high-fructose corn syrup and a unique link to weight gain continues, one thing is clear: excessive consumption of any type of sweetener in one’s diet is not good for overall health or weight loss efforts.

Sweeteners are high in calories and low in nutritional content. For this reason, people trying to lose weight and everyone else trying to eat a more healthful diet are advised to:

  • Eat fewer processed foods.
  • Eat fresh fruits instead of foods with added sugar, fruit juices and fruit-flavored drinks.
  • Drink less soda and more water.

Reducing the high-caloric intake of high-fructose corn syrup in one’s diet should aid in weight loss, regardless of whether or not the sweetener is a unique contributor to excessive weight gain.

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