Back to Basics Baby Step Monday Mission no. 6: Cut High Fructose Corn Syrup

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This is a {guest post} series from Tiffany of Don’t Waste the Crumbs. Catch all the previous baby steps HERE.

Please tell me I’m not the only one who has been in this position.

A friend mentions in casual conversation that she’s cut back her daily intake of soda to only one per day. Your eyes light up at the soda reference, thinking she’s finally opened the door for you to caution her on the dangers of this dreaded beverage. She mistakes your concern for excitement – thinking she’s done something right in your eyes regarding nutrition – and with utmost pride adds that she’s even switched to diet soda instead of regular! To cut back on the calories, of course.

YIKES! Where do we begin? Is there a polite way to tell her that she’s been drinking junk that goes right to her hips and could dissolve a whole tooth in a week? Or do we jump right in and explain how her soda could be slowly eating away her brain?

Hmmm… decisions, decisions.

I think that somehow bypassing the state of shock our ears and brains would be in, and saying anything other than “ARE YOU CRAZY?!”, would be a tremendous feat in itself. I certainly can’t promise my retort would be full of grace and tact, but I do know that it would be out of love.

With Valentine’s Day rapidly approaching and the big candy corporations making bukoo bucks off their chemically-laden heart shaped chocolates, it’s only fitting that love is in the air…

… love to warn you about the dangers of high fructose corn syrup, that is.

Your mission, should you choose to accept, is to stop consuming high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

Particularly if you’re a soda drinker, we gently extend this invitation to cut the habit, for so many reasons…

And switching to diet soda? (Katie jumps in) Oy! I’ve heard of people doing that, too, and I have to refrain from shaking them. Truly. If you’re unsure about the dangers of artificial sweeteners, please read this post from last year. Even when I was still eating Hamburger Helper regularly, I knew that artificial sweeteners weren’t food. I didn’t know all the names they hide under – guess what’s in both name brand fruit punch and Children’s Tylenol, for example, along WITH high fructose corn syrup! I really don’t understand why they need to be laced with artificial sweeteners and HFCS in the same bottle…

Is HFCS Really That Bad?

The short answer: yes.

The long answer: absolutely, without a question or inkling of a doubt, YES!

Still need more? Here are eight, incredibly legit and scary reasons why we should all stop consuming high fructose corn syrup.

1. HFCS is not a food – it’s a chemical created in a lab. It doesn’t grow in the ground, it is not created naturally by an animal, nor is it simply extracted from corn.

2. It requires at least seven steps and 40 hours to make high fructose corn syrup. Creating HFCS is not the equivalent as keeping a sourdough starter in your fridge for a few days. These are complicated steps! Components are broken down, ground up, washed and dried and broken down again. If that weren’t enough, the molecules at this point are separated apart and a portion of them are mixed with fermented bacteria to create an increased concentration of itself. (The full write-up is here, if you need more details.)

3. One of the ingredients to make HFCS is sulfuric acid. You know the dangers of car battery acid, right? That it causes SEVERE burns and must be disposed of properly in order to not contaminate the air, water and soil in our environment? Want to take a guess which acid makes car batteries so dangerous? Sulfuric acid. As if this weren’t enough…

4. The chemicals used to create HFCS can leave behind mercury. This evil toxin is found in some of the products used to create HFCS, and when it’s all said and done, some of the original toxin still remains. (source) For those who justify HFCS because of its original source…

5. HFCS is a derivative of corn, and nearly 88% of corn in the U.S. is genetically modified. (source) Corn has been successfully modified with human genes, jellyfish genes and the hepatitis virus. (source) They claim the modifications are to benefit nutrition and production, but I firmly believe that the corn God created – as-is – is more than good enough. If that weren’t enough on its own, some of the mutations shown to be beneficial to corn (or whatever they’re modifying) appear to be harmless in their original state, yet create toxins and lower immunity against disease and viruses when ingested by humans.

6. HFCS is processed through the liver. The liver is one of the last stops of the digestion system, producing bile and converting various sugars into usable energy. The two most common variations of HFCS are comprised of 40% and 55% fructose, which can ONLY be processed in the liver. Several studies have shown that excess consumption of fructose (and thus excess processing by the liver) causes serious injury to the organ. This injury makes our bodies at risk for liver failure, liver cancer and even a liver transplant. (source) You know how excess alcohol consumption can lead to liver damage? Think of HFCS as the food equivalent of alcohol. Not a good thing.

7. Cancer cells feed and thrive on fructose, and as mentioned above, HFCS is 55% fructose. Researchers at UCLA conducted an experiment on glucose and fructose, testing the previously held theory that our bodies process both sugars equally. Their findings show pancreatic cancer cells (one of the most deadly cancers with a survival rate ranging from 6-25%) can easily metabolize fructose to increase self production. (source) We don’t know if other types of cancer cells are as adept as these, but it certainly isn’t out of the question.

8. HFCS consumption is possibly linked to diseases and ailments in ways we don’t even understand yet. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease in children, obesity, acne, cellulite, gout, cancer and over-eating have all been linked to consuming HFCS through reputable studies. Although it’s hard to completely trust a random list without sources, this article makes some pretty scary points, too.

Katie jumps in: Readers may be surprised to note that I have never officially posted anything on high fructose corn syrup in four long years of blogging. Really! That doggone Sweet, Sweet Summer series just never finished up, or I would have gotten to it, but there are two reasons I’ve been hesitant to jump at it:

  • It’s pretty well demonized in the media at large, so I almost didn’t have to jump on the bandwagon.
  • It’s kind of easy to swing facts both ways. For example, one can look at a 40-hour process to make something and twist it into an “artisanal process,” or consider fermentation with bacteria a great thing, because hey – fermenting is traditional and makes food healthier, right? Something tells me this has to go beyond buzz words.

One could say that cheesemaking is kind of a gross process, too – extract something from a calf’s stomach and add it to milk, along with citric acid, which is an ingredient in dishwasher soap, for goodness sakes, and then allow it sit for months before you eat it, purposely harnessing fungi! It’s possible to make anything sound over-processed and horrid, and I’m sure some people do demonize cheese in just that way.

The bottom line on high fructose corn syrup, in my mind, relies on three truths:

  1. It’s just too new. As Tiffany pointed out, HFCS is made in a lab and hasn’t even been around 100 years. So we don’t really know what the long-term effects are, and it definitely doesn’t qualify as a food.
  2. GMOs. They make me wary at best, scared out of my wits at worst.
  3. No matter how you describe high fructose corn syrup, it’s still sugar. Corn sugar, cane sugar, beet sugar – they’re all sweeteners, they’re all devoid of nutrients when refined and only have a few redeeming values when unrefined. They are non-essential to health and generally harmful to one’s overall nourishment and wellness.

Studies have shown that when people cut HFCS, they become  healthier. Whether that’s because HFCS is evil in and of itself or because it’s simply a darn good marker for processed (junk) food, it seems prudent to avoid it whenever possible.

In our own home, you won’t find it on any ingredients labels (maybe a few?) other than the candy stash from parades, holidays, etc. When we eat outside the home, that’s another story – one that I haven’t “cleaned up” as much as I wish, but sometimes we just need to hang loose and not worry about every morsel that touches our lips – stress’ll kill ya, too, if you get too overbearing about food when a true allergy or sensitivity isn’t present (my opinion).

Where is HFCS typically found?

This author believes that high fructose corn syrup could be found in 52,000 foods, or 2/3 of the average grocery store – and this was back in 2008. There’s really no telling how many foods are laced with this awful chemical today, but it’s nearly a sure fire bet you’ll find it in soft drinks and fruit drinks. (source).

Shortly after raiding my own pantry of trans fats back in December, I searched for HFCS as well. Want to see what I found?


Check this out: Follow the Baby Steps board on Pinterest by clicking HERE.

Does anyone else see the irony in HFCS – directly linked to fat deposits and obesity – being found in cereal that promotes weight loss?

I’m not surprised that it was in the caramel flavoring, but the steak sauces (BOTH bold & spicy AND thick & hearty varieties) and canned tomato soup certainly caught me off guard.

Obviously HFCS is listed in all three jars of preserves, otherwise I wouldn’t have pulled them from my shelves, took a picture of them and happily thrown away the sealed jars. Pop quiz: Which of the three jars has high fructose corn syrup second in the list of ingredients?

Hint: It’s the one that doesn’t have it listed first.

Scary, right? As a mother, it makes me completely rethink peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They’re a childhood staple, yet it could be the very cause of heart disease in my kids?! Katie jumps in again: before we more or less cut bread because of gluten, we often made our real food version of ‘cream cheese and jelly sandwiches’ with yogurt cheese, real fruit (usually frozen) and a small drizzle of honey. Now we do PB and honey on GF pancakes for sandwiches or occasionally splurge on these fruit spreads with zero sweetener – those are tiny jars, so I do mean splurge.

Here’s another snap shot that may surprise you:


No, I’m not talking about the Splenda (which we’ll address later this week) and the tortillas (which were a carryover from the trans fat clean out). I’m talking about that upside down bottle of red goodness hiding in the back row that is also a childhood staple – ketchup! So beloved that my daughter distinctly mentions this anytime she’s treated at a restaurant, as if it’s a side dish and not a condiment. It’s in the raspberry walnut vinaigrette and Worcestershire sauce too, in case you were wondering.

Katie adds: It’s possible to find ketchup without high fructose corn syrup, more and more now, but that’s one condiment I always encourage less of. Bring on the mustard!

One additional word of caution – it’s very possible to find it hidden in “real-washed” food, some whole-wheat items and even children’s medicine. That’s one of the many reasons I (Katie) love working with TriLight Health, where they don’t use sweetener of ANY kind in their herbal supplements and formulas, so they’re safe for people on any kind of diet (candida, GAPS, gluten-free, etc.).

As Katie mentioned in this post, there are no laws stipulating requirements for foods to be labeled “natural” or “all natural.” Of course companies consider HFCS to be natural because it’s derived (in a very long and drawn out process) from corn, but let’s be real – there’s nothing natural about it!

The single ray of sunshine in this ordeal is that there is no organic high fructose corn syrup. Organic standards prohibit genetically-modified organisms. (source) With the vast majority of corn being GMO, it causes manufacturers of organic foods to choose a different, hopefully less toxic and dangerous, sweetener.

It’s all the more reason to eat whole, pure foods in their original state as often as possible. We can make our own fruit butters and choose healthy grains instead of wanna-be “healthy” cereal. Homemade soup tastes exponentially better than canned anyway, and we can make our own salad dressings too! Who needs that bottled stuff?

Where do you stand with high fructose corn syrup? Can you get it out of your kitchen this week?

If you want a Valentine’s Day treat that’s not filled with sweeteners of any kind but will still make your sweetie smile, you’ve got about 6 more hours to take advantage of the free peppermint lip balm deal that Renee and I are hosting for KS readers – details HERE.

Meet TiffanyTiffany is a newbie real food eater who is trying to master and incorporate nourishing foods into her kitchen without breaking the bank. She documents her baby-sized strides at DontWastetheCrumbs.

Disclosure: Trilight Health is a February sponsor of KS.

Click here for my disclaimer and advertising disclosure - affiliate links in this post will earn commission based on sales, but it doesn't change your price.

36 Bites of Conversation So Far

  1. Susan b says

    I was on a flight and didn’t want a soda (diet or otherwise) so I ordered bloody mary mix – figured it was somewhat healthy. It had HFCS!!!!!

  2. Valerie via Facebook says

    I completely agree with your anger at finding it in EVERYTHING! Trying to avoid HFCS has definitely added time to my grocery shopping each week. That extra time is worth it though because it has helped us to kick out a lot of unhealthy food that we shouldn’t be eating.

  3. Anne via Facebook says

    It doesn’t surprise me in anything. I expect to find this cheap substitute that is creating our massive health decline in everything and when I find the product I want without it, it is almost worth celebrating. Shopping is a laugh! I only shop the perimeter of the store, unless it is Trader Joes, Whole Foods or my local health food store. We have resorted to growing or making almost all we eat. Meat/farmer…Eggs/farmer…. Our society would be healthier if the big guns were not controlling the FDA and our available food was worth eating. All we do is pay pay pay and our voices are not heard.

  4. Rachel says

    Bacillus is evil? Really? I agree that HFCS is no good, but outlandish things like relating it to anthrax just shows that you delve into complicated science (ie microbiology) just enough to support your claim and no further. That’s what makes the green movement just get eye rolls from doctors. Bacillus is a big group of bacteria. It also includes things like bacillus coagulans, a probiotic. Using your logic, sodas are now contributing to healthy flora, right? Please check your facts as best you can or keep it simple without delving into microbiology.

    • Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship says

      Thank you for pointing this out – I wasn’t sure on some of the 8 points Tiffany went into and I know there’s a lot of hype about HFCS when it’s likely not all that much worse than regular white sugar. That’s why I included my italicized explanation, since I didn’t have time to do my own research this week (hence the guest post!). In the end, HFCS remains something to be avoided because of GMOs, being in highly processed foods that aren’t good for us in general, and quite simply being a sweetener. How it’s made becomes of less and less consequence.

      Since our information isn’t very accurate, I’ll go in and edit the post – thanks again for calling us on our limited scientific knowledge; it’s the body of information in the whole community here that makes KS a great place to be!
      :) Katie

      • says

        Thank you for the edit Katie.
        Rachel – There are good strains among this bacterium, but I wasn’t not able to locate the specific strain used for HFCS processing. Given the shady track record that “big food business” has on being forthcoming on the dangers of their own food, it wouldn’t surprise me if some of the harmful strains where used in the making. Katie’s bottom line is correct and my delving into details was made with best intentions to increase awareness to the topic. The lack of concern that seems to be prevalent in the food industry puts me on a soap box – thank you for bringing me back down! ~Tiffany

  5. Katie says

    So is there a real food replacement for HFCS? There are some recipes I wish would turn out by omitting the evil ingredient. Any thoughts or ideas?

    • Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship says

      I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a recipe that actually calls for “high fructose corn syrup!” Is that what you mean, or just trying to make ketchup or something without using HFCS? Either way, I’ve found almost all liquid sweeteners are pretty interchangeable, so I’d just use honey or maple syrup.
      :) Katie

      • Katie says

        I was thinking it was the same as just corn syrup. Great to know I can just use other liquid sweeteners in it’s place!! :)

  6. Bambi via Facebook says

    We check everything. My mom thinks I’m a little nuts and says I shouldn’t really worry about it. No thank you, I will continue to read labels and buy things that are as natural as I can and done contain HFCS or MSG!!

  7. Rayven via Facebook says

    In Canada they call it glucose-fructose because most of us are aware that the name high fructose corn syrup is not good for our health so they have to deceive us with a different name.. Just like aspartame.. They have other names like sucralose and acesulfame k just to name a few.. Great post.. Keep informing us..

  8. Rebekah via Facebook says

    Found it in my vanilla extract yesterday. Grrrrr! Bought my own beans and they are in bourbon as I type. :-)

  9. Sharon says

    Giving up HFCS was the start of my “real food” journey. These days, I’m not reading labels much, because I cook from scratch and most of what I buy doesn’t have much of a label to read.

    For Lent this year, I’m giving up sugars made from corn, cane, and beets. The not-so-baby step!

    • Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship says

      I give up processed sugar for Lent, too – a challenge! I’m still considering whether I want to give up all sweeteners, or just on Fridays… :) Katie

    • says


      We watched a documentary “Hungry for Change” the other day that likened sugar to an addictive drug. Science aside, I do know from personal experience that one taste of sugar makes me want another. Giving it up for Lent would be a serious challenge for me! Best of luck to you! ~Tiffany

  10. Sharon says

    As far as no. 6 goes– if I had to choose between having a beer and having a soft drink, I’d go with the beer. At least the beer has some nutritional merit; not a lot of vitamins and minerals, but some. I’m not a home-brewer, btw, but I’ve thought about it!

  11. Katherine says

    I gave up HFCS long ago! I used to always get headaches (I mean always. Since I was at least 5 years old and my dad tried to tell me I didn’t know what I was talking about when I asked him what a headache was and I told him I had one.) and my mother encouraged me to see a doctor about it. I did some research and figured out that the doc would probably make me keep a food journal first to see what was causing them. Before wasting money going to a doc to have him tell me to do that and THEN come back to figure it out, I decided to start a food journal and then I’d go to the doctor after a few weeks.

    Well low and behold, I noticed I had a headache after drinking regular soda and a favorite (non-skinny) drink from Starbucks. I looked up the ingredients and the common factor was HFCS.

    So I did a little more research to find it’s in EVERYTHING. Condiments, juice boxes, bread, whipped cream, etc., things I consumed as a kid and others I ate now–no wonder I had headaches all the time.

    I did a huge purge of anything with HFCS in 2006 and the frequency of my headaches decreased to 1 or 2 a month from 3 or 4 a week. Now, when I get a headache, and I have eaten something I didn’t make on my own, I can pretty much trace it back to something that probably had HFCS in it (did the brunch place use real maple syrup or fake stuff??).

    It has made such a difference in our lives since we made this change.

    Now, the producers are catching up, and changing the name of HFCS, so you have to watch out for that too! “Corn Sugar” is often a replacement for HFCS–and sounds a little bit safter, no? It’s the same thing!

    • says


      Our bodies are wonderful machines, and it’s amazing to see how we react nearly immediately to chemicals we weren’t designed to handle. To piggy back on your story, I think I’ve found a similar reaction in my kids, but excitability instead of headaches. I need more examples to be able to directly link it, but I firmly believe that our bodies DO produce some sort of reaction to the unnatural chemicals found in our food. We just don’t recognize the reaction (and attribute it to something else), or have grown used to it. Very scary! ~Tiffany

      • Katherine says

        Tiffany, Suzanne Somers’ book “Breakthrough” talks a lot about MSG and how it excites the cells in the brain to the point that they die, but that excitement can cause over excitement in behavior and also causes headaches (and then the brain cells die?? that can’t be good!). Since MSG is a preservative, as is HFCS, I wonder if it is a correlation of the preservative piece?

  12. says

    About PBJ sandwiches: My 8-year-old has been averaging about 1 per day for the past few years. We make them with
    *peanut butter that contains nothing but peanuts, from the bulk section of our food co-op
    *organic jam sweetened with sugar, from Costco or Trader Joe’s
    *whole-wheat bread without HFCS–lately we have been buying Bimbo brand, which showed up in our supermarket. It does contain soybean oil, which I’m not thrilled about because most soy is GMO, but the amount is small…still looking for a better, affordable bread, since nobody in our house is willing to put the time into baking bread on a regular basis.

    My son is accustomed to this type of PBJ because it’s what he’s had all his life. Occasionally he’ll come home from a friend’s house or somewhere and complain that they had PBJ “that was so sweet I could barely eat it, and the bread was squishy, and the peanut butter had this weird slippery texture…” :-)

    • Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship says

      I’ve always loved what your “raised on real food” kid says about fake food! 😉

      Tiffany and I definitely aren’t poo-pooing all PBJs, of course, just pointing out how easy it is for an unsuspecting mama to serve HFCS in 3 ways on the same sandwich every single day.

      :) Katie

  13. L White says

    This post was very disappointing. And I actually like Tiffany’s blog. But this is full of scare tactics and no real science. References are weak and sparse. This discourages people wo consider moving to real foods because they look for the faulty logic. They see “possibly linked” and “ways we don’t understand” as a full talking point and say – that’s all you’ve got??? I was THAT person who dismissed the entire whole food concept when reading this type of article. So what if it takes 40 hours. Who cares about a scary chemical called sulfuric acid which burns you in car batteries – high concentrations of even beneficial things can kill you – vitamins, water. There are some good points here, let’s not lose them inside scary emotional rhetoric. I truly understand the emotion, but we want to build confidence in the benefits of real food and spread facts, not emotions. At least that is my goal.

    • says

      Scaring people into eating real food is not my goal either. In fact scaring people into anything will never result in true change, which is the ultimate goal.

      When my fake-food flag goes up, I explain as many facts as my brain can carry at one time. The dangers of processed foods is a topic I’ve become passionate about and the people on the receiving end don’t always seem to quite understand the implications on their health. It baffles me that at that moment, I care more about their health than they do! I apologize for my emotions preventing the facts from shining through – there are serious dangers to HFCS and as I mentioned to another commenter, the lack of concern that is so prevalent puts me on a soap box. :) ~Tiffany

      • L White says

        I respect your feelings, and appreciate your response. You’ve gained my respect (and I’ll be reading you more often).

        I can’t fix everyone, I can’t even get my diabetic parents to cut out the artificial sweeteners. So my goal is to motivate people to try to make small, permanent changes to real food. If they take some small steps and spend some dollars on real food, then they are creating more demand. More demand makes producers more interested in making it. More competition means better prices, giving people less resistance to switching. Everybody wins.

        What motivated me was the slow emergence of studies that revealed everything was not so rosy with our food system. So I always try to find the hard science, which is hard. Studies cost money. Consumer watch groups don’t make money, they have to raise it. Corporations make money, and they don’t pay for studies that put their products in bad light. So if there are some studies showing negative effects, then it must be tip of the iceburg. This is the tactic I take, but my soapbox is smaller than yours.

        Keep up the good fight. We’ll get there.

  14. Karen via Facebook says

    Thank-you, Rayven Newman! I wondered what that actually was. And here I was congratulating myself because I didn’t have anything with high fructose corn syrup. No wonder! A rat by any other name, and all. I knew it was a sugar, just not what kind, so I know there isn’t much, but what there is will be in tomorrow’s garbage pickup.

    • Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship says

      😉 I couldn’t hush up! Tiffany is doing a whole 10-post series, though, so we’re kind of team-working our way through it.

      As you might have seen in the comments above, there were some issues with the validity of some of the points, which I was guessing at but didn’t have time to research fully myself. I felt the need to make sure that I was still the final word on KS, so I popped in. :)

  15. says

    Luckily you can make jam, ketchup, whatever you want all on your own! And nine times out of ten, I find I don’t actually need to replace the HFCS with anything. That unnatural sweet taste is just to give the fake, overprocessed food some kind of flavor. Spaghetti sauce made with my homegrown tomatoes is plenty sweet with no sugar. Ketchup just needs a bit of molasses and maybe some fish sauce. It’s only processed food that needs sugar AND MSG in every single thing, just because it has had the natural taste processed right out of it.

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