Oh, high fructose corn syrup, how do we hate thee? Let us count the ways: High fructose corn syrup makes you fatter. It makes you dumber. It ages you and makes your skin worse. It makes you addicted to it. In fact, a study out of the University of the Philippines Diliman linked the sugar to diabetes and metabolic diseases. And yet, high fructose corn syrup can be found in a ton of common, store-bought foods. The sweetener is so popular that many Americans are consuming a few dozen pounds of it every year (not kidding), which certainly explains why so many of us are overweight and struggling with health issues. Even scarier? High fructose corn syrup can be found in things you might not even be reading the nutrition label for, like ketchup.
So, while you know to steer clear of syrup-injected soda, take a look at our list of foods that usually have HFCS in them that you may not have realized. There are some brands that are the exception, of course, but think twice before guzzling or chowing down on these “innocent” foods without checking the label first.
Think you’re squeezing out some tomato-based blobs? Not exactly. Ketchup manufacturers love to add a touch of sweetness into their condiment concoctions; in fact, Heinz Tomato Ketchup forces in four grams of manmade sugary toxins in just one tiny tablespoon. Yuck!
RELATED: The easy guide to cutting back on sugar is finally here.
We love the high fiber content in apple peels, so we already get sad when applesauce ruins that nutritional boon for your body. When food manufacturers make applesauce, though, the situation goes from less-than-ideal to straight-up dangerous, thanks to the high fructose corn syrup they use in the recipes.
Crackers have never really been all they’re cracked up to be. Even the ones claiming to be “healthy” are often infused with HFCS. (Crackers like Wheat Thins—even the whole grain kind—have it.) If you’re looking for a wholesome base for aged cheddar, make sure to pick a healthy cracker that lists quality flour, seeds, and spices rather than added sugar in the ingredient list.
Imagine grilling the perfect steak, serving it to someone, and then watching them douse it in syrup. That’s what this is like. A good cut of meat that’s been cooked appropriately shouldn’t need steak sauce, but this is where HFCS tricks people’s brains; they remember that sweet steak sauce taste and start slathering it on. Not classy.
This tangy topping seems so innocent, right? But it, along with some of the foods you top it with, is often spiked with high fructose corn syrup, which can lead to vascular dysfunction, a contributing factor in diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.
PROCESSED, FLAVORED OATMEAL
We love oatmeal at Eat This, Not That! but instant oatmeal can be very sneaky! Although oatmeal is one of the healthiest foods out there, those flavored instant packets often have some HFCS hiding in ’em.
Lunch meat is, unfortunately, much more than protein and fats. Many brands of deli meat are loaded with harmful additives and preservatives like nitrates, colored with artificial dyes, and flavored with high fructose corn syrup. The BBQ and honey-smoked flavors should raise a red flag, but all of them are suspects.
Canned fruit cocktail is one of those things we’re not really sure anyone sees outside of trays of hospital food, and yet it still exists. Fresh and frozen fruit are great foods for your weight loss plan, but the fruit cocktails that say they are “in syrup” have been sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. Fruit that can lead to health complications, including high levels of uric acid, kidney dysfunction, and gout? You should’ve just peeled a banana.
Peanuts are a great way to get a dose of protein and the healthy fats can keep you satiated throughout the day. Unfortunately, if your brand of choice is full of high fructose corn syrup, your PB cravings—and some extra LBs on your frame—could be in your future. Research published in Current Hypertension Reports shows that high fructose corn syrup is associated with higher levels belly fat and obesity, which is why you should choose a healthy peanut butter that has no more than two ingredients: peanuts and salt.
SNACK OR MEAL BARS
By now, you should know that those protein bars and nutrition sticks aren’t all they claim to be. While these bars claim to be weight loss-friendly foods, many of them are practically dipped in high fructose corn syrup.
It’s one thing to sip on a cold-pressed green juice from your favorite organic shop, but it’s an entirely different story when you’re pouring sweet stuff out of a bottle or carton from the grocery store; most of these varieties are a cocktail of some water that’s got a ton of high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, and fake flavors.
Many ‘good for you’ cereals are jam-packed with added sugars, preservatives, and dyes—regardless of whether the front of the box reads “whole grain,” “high fiber,” or “packed with protein.” Even if your favorite cereal doesn’t have a mascot on its box or bright flavors in your bowl, it could still be full of HFCS. Make sure to check the label.
From strawberry to vanilla to strawberry vanilla, flavored milk is usually sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. We love chocolate milk for its post-workout benefits, though, so just make sure you find out what’s in it before you chug. As for all the other flavored milks? Skip ’em.
Do you squeeze pancake syrup onto your burgers or sandwiches? How about into your potato salad or deviled eggs? Some mayonnaise alternatives, like Miracle Whip, are flavored with high fructose corn syrup. Would you like some high blood pressure with that condiment?
Many of your favorite salad dressings—including Ranch, Italian, French, Russian, and Thousand Island—are spiked with HFCS. It’s so common that there are at least 16 salad dressings worse than chocolate syrup!
A staggering number of store-bought vegetable soups are made tastier by adding high fructose corn syrup. In fact, some of the soups that many people think of as wholesome, like Campbell’s classic tomato soup, list high fructose corn syrup as one of their main ingredients. Safely dip your spoon into a broth that shuns our culprit.
Like oatmeal, we can talk about the benefits of yogurt until we’re blue in the face. But it’s also one of those health foods that often gets ruined by high fructose corn syrup, especially the flavored kinds.
This one is double trouble. Not only are your tomatoes most likely sitting in syrup, but they also may turn carcinogenic in the process. Tomatoes have high acidity, which makes it easier for BPA to leach from the lining of the can into the fruit. You’re better off using fresh tomatoes when you cook a meal.
Cottage cheese can be a good source of slow-digesting casein protein, but many of the fruit-topped, flavored varieties at the grocery store are packed with high fructose corn syrup. Scope out the ingredient list before you spoon out your next snack.
Yep—even those whole wheat, healthy-sounding loaves can have high concentrations of HFCS. To lessen your risk of things like diabetes and obesity, choose an Eat This-approved option, like Ezekiel bread.
Like soda and many other beverages, iced teas can’t be trusted without being seriously investigated. Your grocery store option is most likely spiked with high fructose corn syrup, so why not just prepare a glass of freshly-brewed-and-chilled green or black tea instead? Stir in a tiny bit of honey and you’ll feel way better from it than that other junk you’ve been sipping.
And here you thought pickles were mostly flavored with salt. Certain kinds of pickles (like sweet gherkins and bread-and-butter pickles) are given a touch of sweetness from high fructose corn syrup before they’re pickled. Making your own pickles with some vinegar and spices is easier than you think!