High Fructose Corn Syrup and Other Carbs: Have They Made Us Fat and Sick?

High fructose corn syrup has gotten a bad rap as being one of the culprits behind the obesity epidemic. But while HFCS is likely a major driver of the problem, it can't be the only one. And blaming the food industry may not be particularly fair, either.

In fact, according to the alternative theory about why we fatten (the Lipophilia Hypothesis), the obesity epidemic has emerged as a direct consequence of our society-wide shift towards a low fat high carb diet -- such as the one prescribed by the USDA Food Pyramid. In other words, it's not just the high fructose corn syrup that's fattening us. It's the juice, the rice, the pasta, the corn, and even the sainted 'whole grains' in our diets. Moreover, perversely, the very nutrients that we've been told to cut out of our diets to protect our health -- fats, and in particular saturated animal fats -- may in fact be extremely healthful, and slimming to boot!

The Lipophilia Hypothesis pivots on the idea that, in the words of George Cahill (as quoted by Gary Taubes), "carbohydrate is driving insulin is driving fat."[1]Thus, our collective embrace of a low fat, high carb diet, starting in the late 1970s, would be primarily responsible for today's obesity epidemic.

But any factors that elevate insulin levels in the population could be partially to blame as well. For instance, we're consuming antidepressants and other psychopharmaceuticals in record amounts. This may be significant, since many of these drugs appear to cause or exacerbate insulin resistance and thus to drive weight gain independent of dietary factors such as high fructose corn syrup.

Once again, we have a stark contrast. The Caloric Balance Hypothesis posits that the obesity epidemic must have been brought on by an epidemic of gluttony and/or sloth. The Lipophilia Hypothesis tells us that our switch to a low fat diet -- full of simple carbs such as high fructose corn syrup -- is the real villain.

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1.Taubes, Gary. "Good Calories, Bad Calories." p. 400 New York: Knopf (2007).

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