What Is HFCS?

Sugar is Sugar

Many people are surprised to hear that high fructose corn syrup is almost identical to table sugar and honey. It is composed of virtually the same amounts of the simple sugars—glucose and fructose. Glucose serves as a building block for carbohydrates and fructose is commonly found in fruits and honey.

Jim Laidler, M.D., answers the question: What is high fructose corn syrup?

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High fructose corn syrup, a sugar made from corn, comes in two compositions—HFCS-42 and HFCS-55. A simple comparison of the percentage of glucose and fructose reveals its striking similarities to table sugar.

“When high-fructose corn syrup and sugar are absorbed into our bloodstream, the two are indistinguishable by the body.”
Joan Salge Blake, M.S., R.D., L.D.N.
  • HFCS-42 = 42% fructose + 58% glucose
  • HFCS-55 = 55% fructose + 45% glucose
  • Table sugar = 50% fructose and 50% glucose

In fact, due to their similar structures, many health professionals agree that whether it’s sugar from corn or sugar from cane, your body can’t tell the difference—your body metabolizes both the same way.

Why Use High Fructose Corn Syrup?

So if sugar and HFCS are so similar, why even use it? For the most part, you'll find high fructose corn syrup, a sugar made from corn, in the same kinds of products in which you would find table sugar or other sweeteners. Using HFCS has a variety of benefits[1] [2], including:

  • Cost: When creating products, using HFCS has significant economic advantages over sugar
  • Taste: HFCS works to make food taste better, such as bread, spaghetti sauce and yogurt
  • Composition: HFCS works to make foods, such as chewy breakfast bars, stay fresh and allows for a soft texture

High fructose corn syrup has been used for over forty years and the International Food Information Council agrees that, “HFCS is a useful ingredient because of its sweetness and ability to blend with other food and beverage ingredients.” 

If you’re interested in learning even more, check out “HFCS: More Than Just a Sweetener” from Food Product Design.[3]

Ruth MacDonald, PhD, RD, and Chair of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Iowa State University speaks about high fructose corn syrup and other sugars for Best Food Facts.


[1] Hanover LM, White JS. 1993. Manufacturing, composition, and applications of fructose. Am J Clin Nutr 58(suppl 5):724S-732S

[2] White JS. 1992. Fructose syrup: production, properties and applications, in FW Schenck & RE Hebeda, eds, Starch Hydrolysis Products – Worldwide Technology, Production, and Applications. VCH Publishers, Inc. pp. 177-200.

[3] HFCS: More Than Just a Sweetener, Food Product Design, 2011 (John S. White, PhD)