In the question How bitter is Robert Lustig's "Bitter Truth" about sugar?, one of the answers is claiming that there's High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) in most American grocery products:

If HFCS is in virtually every product on the grocery store shelf, and the amount in a given product is significantly higher than necessary, how is the average consumer meant to practice "moderation"?

This isn't the first time I've encountered claims HFCS being in everything. Is it virtually impossible to avoid HFCS when buying food over there?

By virtually impossible I assume the original claim meant to say that you can achieve a normal balanced (not necessarily all-vegetarian) diet. I.e. just eating crackers that doesn't contain HFCS or having an all-vegie diet wouldn't count using groceries found in a typical well stocked supermarket.

  • 5
    Fructose and corn syrup is used instead of sugar, largely for price reasons (one is cheaper because of subsidies, the other more expensive because of trade protection). Manufacturers include it in processed foods because consumers prefer the taste. So to avoid it, all you need to do is buy products which are unsweetened such as mayonnaise, or which use artificial sweeteners, or which are not processed; that may be less than half of grocery food products.
    – Henry
    Apr 13, 2011 at 22:59
  • I agree in going for unsweetened foods, but I have not yet seen anything which convinces me that artificial sweeteners are safer than HFCS...they both seem pretty harmful.
    – Rory Alsop
    Jul 15, 2012 at 17:33
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    @vartec how do you make bread without sugar? some is required for yeast to make bread rise
    – Ryathal
    Jul 16, 2012 at 15:10
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    @Ryathal: only if you mean that artificial, puffed up and gooey thing they called bread in the US. Meanwhile in Europe for few thousand years bread has been baked with either yeast or lactobacillus (used in sourdough). Which break down flour's starch into natural sugars. No need for additional sugar or HFCS.
    – vartec
    Jul 17, 2012 at 8:59
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    I think the main question should be rewritten as: "What is the percentage of [processed] food with HFCS in it"? This would avoid trivial answers like "you can fill your shopping cart with lettuce and tomatoes and you will have no HFCS in it".
    – nico
    Aug 22, 2012 at 6:56

1 Answer 1


Is it virtually impossible to avoid HFCS when buying food over there?

You can avoid HFCS by purchasing whole foods such as fruits, nuts and vegetables (source 1, source 2, source 3, source 4), so it's a matter of choice.

Is there high fructose corn syrup in almost every grocery product in America?

This depends on whether you are talking about packaged foods only. You can see from the sources above that there are alternatives, however the USDA had this to say in 2000:

Sugar— including sucrose, corn sweeteners, honey, maple syrup, and molasses—is ubiquitous and often hidden. In a sense, sugar is the number one food additive. It turns up in some unlikely places, such as pizza, bread, hot dogs, boxed mixed rice, soup, crackers, spaghetti sauce, lunch meat, canned vegetables, fruit drinks, flavored yogurt, ketchup, salad dressing, mayonnaise, and some peanut butter. Carbonated sodas provided more than a fifth (22 percent) of the refined and added sugars in the 2000 American food supply, compared with 16 percent in 1970.

The USDA also previously had a database which showed some typical analysis for foods to identify added sugars. On a page marked last updated 2012 it now says this regarding the previous mentioned database:

No method can analyze for added sugars so their amounts must be extrapolated or supplied by food companies, many of which are not willing to make public such proprietary information.

This document around labeling requirements for sugar is also worth reading as it also goes into great detail around the lack of solid requirements to label sugars on packaging in the US.

Based on this information I would say if you are not going with whole foods then it is going to be difficult to tell. Your best option is to stick with fresh produce, nuts and meats. Anything packaged and you are heading into an area which is uncertain.

  • Is there a reason why you are so specific when you say "non-carbonated bottled water"? For this argument, wouldn't unflavoured soda water, tap water or diet soft drinks be equally acceptable?
    – Oddthinking
    Aug 22, 2012 at 6:27
  • Oh, and I guess you need references to support your claims about the relative proportions in supermarkets, but I have no idea where you'd find that info, despite it presumably being common knowledge to anyone interested who shops.
    – Oddthinking
    Aug 22, 2012 at 6:32
  • I maybe applying a "foolish consistency" here, but there is an implied claim from a popular American book author that "HFCS is in virtually every product on the grocery store shelf", and a counter claim from a random Sydney-sider stating that it isn't true. Who should I believe? My gut says you, but my skeptics hat is asking "Who is providing the best evidence?" You aren't providing any in your answer.
    – Oddthinking
    Aug 22, 2012 at 13:15
  • @Oddthinking - I didn't realise where I currently live had anything to do with providing a factual answer, unless this is a new site requirement? No wonder nobody has answered the Shangri-La diet question yet.
    – going
    Aug 22, 2012 at 23:46
  • I think you latched onto the wrong part of my concern. Now that you've edited it to include independent references, rather than relying on your personal experience, then of course your location is irrelevant. +1
    – Oddthinking
    Aug 23, 2012 at 0:45

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