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Ask Dr. Gourmet

Should I avoid all corn syrup?

I know that high fructose corn syrup is bad for me. Now that I'm reading labels more carefully, I'm very surprised at how often it shows up in prepared foods, even as an additive in supposedly healthy whole-wheat bread. I love to bake, and occasionally a recipe calls for corn syrup. What's the difference between the corn syrup in my pantry and the high fructose corn syrup found in so many commercial products? Is Karo syrup as bad for me as HFCS, and should I try to find a substitute?

Dr. Gourmet Says....

Fresh yellow and corn syrup in a beaker

Like you, I find high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in so many products and am often amazed at the number of foods that contain this ingredient. You'll find it in processed foods in very high amounts, like soda and sweet drinks, baked goods and other processed foods. There is a lot of controversy about whether this ingredient is a worse for you than other sweeteners. More and more research is building a case that it is not all that great a choice for health reasons. That said, I do try to avoid most processed foods in general and certainly those that contain HFCS.

Corn syrup is essentially straight glucose that is extracted from corn. High Fructose Corn Syrup undergoes a number of additional steps to yield a product high in fructose. There's a lot of reason to use corn syrup, like Karo, occasionally. It works well for baking and I have found that it helps in small amounts in sauces and dressings to help with texture. It's not a bad choice for you to use occasionally.

Thanks for writing,

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP, CCMS
Dr. Gourmet