There are recent ads from the Corn Sugar industry telling us that 'sugar is sugar'. While I appreciate the "natural" sugar of fruit juices vs refined sugar question - and its answer does touch on this tangentially, I am looking for something more specific with regard to two highly refined products. The answer may well be that what happens in The Liver stays in The Liver and it doesn't matter one hoot.

All I typically find is anecdotal "sugar is bad for you regardless so just cut it out and get over it" information (see ehow.com #5379818). I'm limiting this to HFCS and cane sugar because they seem to be the most discussed with regard to refined sweeteners from 'natural' sources.

  1. Does the human body respond differently to HFCS than it does to cane sugar? (i.e. does the body differentiate between these two different refined sugars in its response with insulin levels)
  2. If yes, is HFCS able to do damage that cane sugar cannot (given reasonable/similar ingestion amounts) due to the different response?
  3. Could there be a beneficial reason for different responses to two refined sugars?

--If everything comes from something, then technically everything counts as 'natural', sure.

--Ok, I'm also still annoyed at the anecdotal advice of a supposed medical professional who told me to chew sugared gum as opposed to sugar free because of my low blood sugar levels - see "Artificial sweeteners do not contain carbohydrates so they do not cause blood sugar to elevate, whereas, sugar alcohols have some effect on blood sugar. " see here

Related: Is brown sugar healthier than white sugar?

Related: How bitter is Robert Lustig's "Bitter Truth" about sugar?

  • Q2 is my primary interest... Will clean up the styling and thought organization shortly. Commented May 19, 2011 at 19:48
  • @Monkey Tuesday: That was about sucrose vs. fruit juice. This is about sucrose vs. high-fructose corn syrup. FWIW, sucrose is a slightly more complex carbohydrate than fructose. Commented May 19, 2011 at 23:51
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    Sucrose is a disaccharide (a dimer of one glucose and one fructose). HFCS is a mixture of glucose and fructose. This difference is not insignificant. (We might want to look at actual hydrolysis rates starting with saliva and upper GI tract.)
    – user2547
    Commented May 20, 2011 at 6:27
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    It annoys me when americans blame obesity on HFCS. It's not the type of sugar that is a problem but the fact that americans have sugar in everything. When I'm on a conference in the US, the breakfast is usually candy or extremely sweet muffins! What's wrong with yogurt or you know a nice sandwich? (Sorry for the rant). Commented May 27, 2011 at 20:47
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    I'm always skeptical of claims that use vague bugaboo terms like "toxins", "refined", or "processed". Doesn't refined technically mean removing impurities? These type of claims smack of the idea that somehow food is tainted by human contact. Of similar ilk is the completely insane assertion that a food product with ingredients that have a long Latin name are somehow worse for you. Hint: Fruits have long scary scientific names too.
    – JohnFx
    Commented Jun 11, 2011 at 2:54

3 Answers 3


I'm not an expert, but you might like this article from the Times,


Refined sugar (that is, sucrose) is made up of a molecule of the carbohydrate glucose, bonded to a molecule of the carbohydrate fructose — a 50-50 mixture of the two. The fructose, which is almost twice as sweet as glucose, is what distinguishes sugar from other carbohydrate-rich foods like bread or potatoes that break down upon digestion to glucose alone. The more fructose in a substance, the sweeter it will be. High-fructose corn syrup, as it is most commonly consumed, is 55 percent fructose, and the remaining 45 percent is nearly all glucose. It was first marketed in the late 1970s and was created to be indistinguishable from refined sugar when used in soft drinks. Because each of these sugars ends up as glucose and fructose in our guts, our bodies react the same way to both, and the physiological effects are identical. In a 2010 review of the relevant science, Luc Tappy, a researcher at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland who is considered by biochemists who study fructose to be the world’s foremost authority on the subject, said there was “not the single hint” that H.F.C.S. was more deleterious than other sources of sugar.

The question, then, isn’t whether high-fructose corn syrup is worse than sugar; it’s what do they do to us, and how do they do it? The conventional wisdom has long been that the worst that can be said about sugars of any kind is that they cause tooth decay and represent “empty calories” that we eat in excess because they taste so good.

By this logic, sugar-sweetened beverages (or H.F.C.S.-sweetened beverages, as the Sugar Association prefers they are called) are bad for us not because there’s anything particularly toxic about the sugar they contain but just because people consume too many of them.

upshot: HFSC can be good if you use less of it to achieve the same sweetness.

My personal opinion is that cane sugar tastes a little better. (e.g. the Sidral Mexican apple soda vs. most soft drinks.) My intuition is that limiting habitual consumption is more important than occasional special event / enjoyment consumption.


Note: sucrose (white table sugar) is 50% fructose, 50% glucose. Mean fructose content of popular U.S. sweetened beverages was reported at 59%, with "several major brands" using 65% fructose HFCS.

Glucose, when fed with fructose, dramatically increases fructose absorption:

Fructose Absorption

70). Here, 40 g of pure fructose was malabsorbed by 68%, but 40 g of fructose in HFCS caused 26% to malabsorb 71). Malabsorption occured in 84% fed pear juice, 41% fed apple juice, and 20% fed grape juice; pear juice has an excess of fructose and some sorbitol (another sugar), apple juice is similar to pear juice but with less sobitol, and grape juice has equal amounts fructose:glucose and no sobitol 72).

In animals, fasting glucose levels rose in a group fed fructose/glucose, but not in a group fed sucrose, and the sucrose group was more physically active 73). Liver fat accumulation and endotoxin levels were significantly higher in rats fed fructose, compared to those fed sucrose 74).

"Rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight [and metabolic syndrome] than those with access to table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same." 75)

I don't have specific evidence whether the amount of malabsorbed fructose typical for HFCS is deleterious to health. I do believe there's ample evidence suggesting that intestinal microbes are a major factor in human disease, and pathogenic microbes would likely be enabled by a constant source of malabsorbed sugar. Evidence for this topic is too long to fit or be appropriate for this post.

I can't post more than 2 links due to my account standing, so please see my site, for references and relevant extracts of the referenced studies.

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    "sucrose is 50% fructose, 50% glucose" — is or breaks down to?
    – vartec
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 19:50

Background information
(OP: feel free to copy-paste this into the question.)

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sucrose#Metabolism_of_sucrose

In mammals, sucrose is readily digested in the stomach into its component sugars, by acidic hydrolysis. This step is performed by a glycoside hydrolase, which catalyzes the hydrolysis of sucrose to the monosaccharides glucose and fructose. Glucose and fructose are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream in the small intestine. Undigested sucrose passing into the intestine is also broken down by sucrase or isomaltase glycoside hydrolases, which are located in the membrane of the microvilli lining the duodenum. These products are also transferred rapidly into the bloodstream. Sucrose is digested by the enzyme invertase in bacteria and some animals.

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-fructose_corn_syrup

Fructose is absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract by a different mechanism than that for glucose. Glucose stimulates insulin release from the isolated pancreas, but fructose does not. Fructose is metabolized primarily in the liver. Once inside the liver cell, fructose can enter the pathways that provide glycerol, the backbone for triacylglycerol. The growing dietary amount of fructose that is derived from sucrose or HFCS has raised questions about how children and adults respond to fructose alone or when it is accompanied by glucose.

When it comes to comparison between sucrose and HFCS, the debate becomes much more intractable. The Wikipedia HFCS article cited a large number of studies - too numerous to list here.

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    "Glucose stimulates insulin release from the isolated pancreas, but fructose does not." - it is this part that really intrigues me. Why might the body manage them differently? Commented May 30, 2011 at 4:57
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    Fructose is a component of sucrose. "sucrose is readily digested in the stomach into its component sugars". Your wikipedia link conveniently fails to mention that one of those component sugars is fructose. When you eat sucrose, your stomach readily breaks it down to (drum roll) fructose -- at which point all the items in your second link also apply. Commented Aug 9, 2011 at 14:55

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