Study: In Weight Loss, High Fructose Corn Syrup Is No Worse Than 'Real' Sugar

Low-calorie diets that included high fructose corn syrup yielded the same progress in terms of obesity indices as diets with equivalent amounts of table sugar.

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In Mexico, Coca-Cola contains "sugar" instead of high fructose corn syrup.  [elleinad/Flickr]

PROBLEM: High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a fructose-glucose mix that's a little more stably and economically used in food production than traditional table sugar (sucrose). When everyone in the United States started getting fat, there was a temporal correlation with our use of HFCS (among many other things), and we worried that the relationship was causal. Though current evidence suggests that the form in which we ingest added sugar is vastly less important than the quantity we ingest, the degree to which HFCS is implicated in the obesity epidemic is debated.

METHODOLOGY: In a "randomized, prospective, double-blinded study," 247 overweight participants were placed on one of four low-calorie diets, each with a calorically-equivalent sugar component. The sugar came in different forms, with varying proportions of sucrose and HFCS. The diets all had the same overall calorie content.

RESULTS: Across the varying diets there was no significant difference in the degree of decrease in BMI, waist circumference, weight, or overall body mass. 

CONCLUSION: Diets that contain sucrose are equally effective in terms of obesity indices as those containing the caloric equivalent of high fructose corn syrup.

IMPLICATION: We're best to consume sucrose and high fructose corn syrup in very limited quantities -- the American Heart Association recommends that men and women not get more than 150 and 100 calories daily from added sugar, respectively. As far as weight loss and obesity indices, though, this study says sucrose is no better than HFCS. To be clear, both are sugar, and HFCS has other metabolic effects not discussed here. One thorough review of the larger HFCS debate is available in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

SOURCE: "The effects of hypocaloric diets containing various levels of sucrose or high fructose corn syrup on weight loss and related parameters," is published in Nutrition Journal.



Addendum: One of the authors of the study reports having "received research funding from the Corn Refiners Association."

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James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The Atlantic. He writes the health column for the monthly magazine and hosts the video series If Our Bodies Could Talk.

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