High fructose corn syrup makes you fat

This well designed and well executed study provides rather conclusive proof that High Fructose Corn Syrup, the sweetener most commonly used in North America, makes you gain weight in a way not explained by calories alone. These rats gained more weight on HFCS compared to a sucrose (regular sugar) diet even though they were fed the same calories. The effect was seen in the short term and in the long term, and abdominal fat increased the most. Gut fat, if you did not know is related to the infamous metabolic syndrome, causing diabetes, hypertension, coronary disease, etc.

High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) accounts for as much as 40% of caloric sweeteners used in the United States. Some studies have shown that short-term access to HFCS can cause increased body weight, but the findings are mixed. The current study examined both short- and long-term effects of HFCS on body weight, body fat, and circulating triglycerides. In Experiment 1, male Sprague–Dawley rats were maintained for short term (8 weeks) on (1) 12 h/day of 8% HFCS, (2) 12 h/day 10% sucrose, (3) 24 h/day HFCS, all with ad libitum rodent chow, or (4) ad libitum chow alone. Rats with 12-h access to HFCS gained significantly more body weight than animals given equal access to 10% sucrose, even though they consumed the same number of total calories, but fewer calories from HFCS than sucrose. In Experiment 2, the long-term effects of HFCS on body weight and obesogenic parameters, as well as gender differences, were explored. Over the course of 6 or 7 months, both male and female rats with access to HFCS gained significantly more body weight than control groups. This increase in body weight with HFCS was accompanied by an increase in adipose fat, notably in the abdominal region, and elevated circulating triglyceride levels. Translated to humans, these results suggest that excessive consumption of HFCS may contribute to the incidence of obesity.

Miriam E. Bocarsly, Elyse S. Powell, Nicole M. Avena, Bartley G. Hoebel. High-fructose corn syrup causes characteristic of obesity in rats: Increased body weight, body fat and triglyceride levels. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 2010; DOI: 10.1016/j.pbb.2010.02.012

For a more layman friendly summary of the article, read the sciencedaily release.

Do reconsider your food habits to avoid HFCS. Note that this whole corn syrup boondongle is made possible by the US government’s insistence on providing billion dollar subsidies to its farmers to grow corn while imposing tariffs on cane sugar from the tropics to make it less attractive. Free trade, my A$$.

Thanks to Tom Laskawy at grist for the blog post.

6 comments for “High fructose corn syrup makes you fat

  1. March 22, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    As a farmer, I’d sure like to know where those “billion dollar” subsidies are and get in on them. What little I got from the government last year wouldn’t buy much. I don’t get paid to plant more corn, or not plant corn. Some one is telling you a story about big payments because they don’t expect all of us independent minded family farmers to notice. I wonder what they are hiding from you.

  2. March 22, 2010 at 8:12 pm


    The authors also note corn subsidies have saved HFCS makers significant cash over the years. Indeed, they reckon that because of the downward pressure on corn prices from subsidies, HFCS producers — including the dominant one, Archer Daniels Midland — accessed “corn priced 27% below its cost from 1997-2005.” As a result, producers booked a cool $2.2 billion in savings between 1997 and 2005 (a period of dramatically heightened subsidy payments).

    Unfortunately, it is not the little farmers that get the money, I wish! It’s the agribusiness giants, I guess calling them farmers is ridiculous.

  3. March 23, 2010 at 6:03 am

    One thing people never seem to think of is that in this time that HFCS growth Americans have become sedentary. If we had to work as hard today as they did 50 years ago I’m sure there would be a lot fewer fat people HFCS or not. Get moving America.

  4. March 23, 2010 at 8:22 am

    True, exercise plays a part. But this study is about how HFCS is particularly bad in a way that cannot be explained merely on the basis of weight gain = calories in – calories out. The enhanced bioavailability of the fructose appears to affect the body in a way it is not accustomed to dealing with.

    All of North America loses so the giant agribusinesses like ADM can make mega profits. Farmers and consumers are on the same side on this one, squeezed for profits.

  5. EMJ
    March 25, 2010 at 10:47 am

    I couldn’t agree more. US (and Canadian) farm policy is hypocritical beyond measure. The government insists that they believe in “free markets” but that is merely a euphemism for “what we say goes.” The US has been brought before the WTO for violations of international trade repeatedly, but the US merely ignores any ruling against them. They are, of course, very quick to use the WTO to punish other nations that are doing something that is against US interests. A great documentary exposing this double standard is called Life and Debt (http://www.lifeanddebt.org/) and looks at the policies imposed on Jamaica by the World Bank and WTO.

    Also, that’s an amazingly effective (and disturbing) ad campaign. Kudos to whomever designed that image.

  6. May 20, 2010 at 8:04 am

    “Some studies have shown that short-term access to HFCS can cause increased body weight, but the findings are mixed.”

    “…these results *suggest* that excessive consumption of HFCS *may* contribute to the incidence of obesity.” (My asterisks.)

    This doesn’t sound “conclusive” to me.