11 Surprising Foods That Contain High Fructose Corn Syrup

If you're trying to eat a more nutritious diet, you may be opting for foods that contain fewer mysterious and difficult-to-pronounce ingredients or are known to be relatively bad for your health. Think ingredients like sodium nitrite and red dye 40, which have been linked to cancer, and, of course, there's high fructose corn syrup. While high fructose corn syrup's connections to cancer are mostly relegated to correlations between high sugar diets and the increased risk of cancer, it does come with its own unique blend of health risks: weight gain, heart disease, fatty liver disease, diabetes, etc.

High fructose corn syrup on its own is pretty simple. It's a cheap sweetener made up of a mix of glucose and fructose, saving food manufacturers significant money when compared to the cost of using true sugar. However, the way our body processes the fructose in the syrup can result in all of the above issues, in cases of overconsumption. Long story short: If you don't have to eat high fructose corn syrup, there are plenty of reasons not to. Unfortunately, high fructose corn syrup isn't just lurking in the obvious spots, like in soda. It's also found in a number of more surprising foods.

1. Canned soup

You probably don't think of soup when you think of high fructose corn syrup. Soup is savory, after all, and isn't high fructose corn syrup sweet? That's its entire point, right? To act as a cheap sweetener in processed sweet foods? 

Historically, high fructose corn syrup has been a major ingredient in canned soups like Campbell's condensed tomato soup. Over recent years, there's been a bit of backlash for this, and, in 2015, Campbell's promised to cut down on its use of such ingredients by 2018. Today, the Campbell's brand claims to have cut high fructose corn syrup from over 80% of its products, though it still admits to using the ingredient for both texture and cost purposes. The Canadian branch of the brand has removed high fructose corn syrup from more than 95% of its products though it also admits to using it in some condensed soups. This isn't just a Campbell's problem; other brands, like Walnut Creek, use high fructose corn syrup in condensed tomato soup as well.

Luckily, many canned soup brands are trying to avoid Campbell's backlash from years past, by proudly claiming their soup's high fructose corn syrup-free status, as is the case with Progresso.

2. Cottage cheese

If you've jumped on the cottage cheese TikTok trend as of late, making anything and everything from queso to ice cream, don't worry — your beloved cottage cheese is mostly safe from high fructose corn syrup. Your average cottage cheese is basic, with only a few ingredients: milk, cream, and salt. It's the "fancy" cottage cheeses you've got to worry about, the ones that come with fruit and other fun ingredients mixed in. For example, Knudsen's low fat cottage cheese with pineapple contains high fructose corn syrup, as does Dean's small curd cottage cheese with pineapple.

This isn't that surprising when you consider that a lot of canned fruit comes packed in sweet syrup, aka high fructose corn syrup. However, if you're trying to avoid the ingredient, you might not want to start your day thinking you're getting a protein-packed breakfast with a side of equally nutritious fruit when in reality, that fruit is tainted by high fructose corn syrup. In the future, avoid the prepped and packaged fruit-cottage-cheese combos and add fresh or frozen fruit to your cottage cheese at home, instead.

3. Macaroni and cheese

You might be starting to catch on that high fructose corn syrup isn't just limited to your favorite sweets and processed baked goods. It can pop up in any highly processed food item — like in your favorite canned, boxed, or otherwise processed macaroni and cheese options. Chef Boyardee's Cheesy Burger Macaroni contains it, for example (as does Chef Boyardee's Beefaroni). 

It's worth noting that Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, particularly the variant in the microwavable cup, has been accused of including high fructose corn syrup in its macaroni because corn syrup solids are the second ingredient listed on the packaging. However, corn syrup solids and high fructose corn syrup are not the same, as corn syrup (including corn syrup solids) is made up of 100% glucose, whereas high fructose corn syrup contains both glucose and fructose.

Luckily, plenty of boxed, microwaveable, and frozen macaroni and cheese options don't contain any corn syrup at all — and, besides, everyone knows that the best version is homemade macaroni and cheese

4. Tonic water

You probably thought you were safe from high fructose corn syrup when you grabbed a bottle of water off the store shelf, even if that water was a little bubbly. But tonic isn't your average water, and both Canada Dry and Schweppes tonic water contain high fructose corn syrup.

Tonic water, a requisite at every bar and on every well-stocked home bar cart, contains a mixture of carbonated water, quinine, sweetener, and often botanicals to create its characteristic flavor profile. Originally, tonic water was valued for its preventative, medicinal quinine content above all else. In the 19th century, British colonizers stationed in India faced malaria outbreaks, and quinine helped appease the symptoms. 

Eventually, though, gin found its way into the mixture and tonic water is now more closely associated with cocktails. While some OG tonic water brands (Schweppes was one of the first in the biz) still opt to use high fructose corn syrup as it adds a lot of sweetness for a low price, many newer brands, like Q Mixers, are swapping out the high fructose corn syrup for plain sugar or artificial sweeteners.

5. Frozen dinners

When you think of a frozen TV dinner, you probably think of a cardboard box containing a microwaveable tray of pretty heavily processed foods that may or may not be all that great, quality-wise. Some claim to be on the healthier side, but others contain ingredients like high fructose corn syrup. Take, for example, Hungry Man's Smokin' Backyard Barbecue meal, which comes with corn, megamenu potatoes, a brownie, barbecue chicken and pork, or Corky's Ribs & BBQ Pulled Pork Dinner, a meat combo with baked beans and cinnamon apples. The thing that both of these frozen dinners have in common? Barbecue sauce. Barbecue sauces are notoriously high in sugar anyway, so it makes sense that high fructose corn syrup would show up in frozen dinners that incorporate it.

The good news is many major brands now offer a large variety of frozen meals that do not include high fructose corn syrup, and you don't have to spring for the more expensive options; Healthy Choice and Lean Cuisine both offer frozen dinners with no high fructose corn syrup at a decent price.

6. Crackers

It's pretty well known that store-bought bread and packaged baked goods contain high fructose corn syrup as a preservative. Look beyond the bread aisle when considering what baked items might also contain high fructose corn syrup — like the crackers in the snack aisle. While crackers may seem to contain pretty simple components — many recipes just call for a handful of ingredients, including flour, water, and butter — several store-bought brands contain high fructose corn syrup, including the classic Ritz crackers and original Club crackers. Walmart's Great Value take on a Club cracker also contains the undesirable sweetener.

For crackers that leave out the high fructose corn syrup, look to brands like Town House, which offers a product very similar to a Club cracker, but made with no high fructose corn syrup, or artificial colors and flavors. Premium saltines are a good option, and Original Cheez-Its are also free from high fructose corn syrup.

7. Breakfast sandwiches

Similarly, frozen breakfast sandwiches can contain high fructose corn syrup, and, no, it's not just the ones that use a pancake for a bun, or something similar. Inside the savory frozen bread, high fructose corn syrup lurks as a preservative. This is the case with Jimmy Dean's sausage, egg, and cheese croissant sandwiches, as well as the very similar Great Value sausage, egg, and cheese croissant sandwiches. For Jimmy Dean at least, this seems to be an issue primarily limited to the brand's croissant recipe. The ham and cheese croissant sandwiches also contain high fructose corn syrup, but the Jimmy Dean bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit sandwiches, as well as the English muffin sausage, egg, and cheese sandwiches, do not.

So, if you're trying to avoid high fructose corn syrup, carefully check the ingredients of your breakfast sandwich of choice, particularly those in the breads used. Or, you can make your own breakfast sandwiches at home. Many can be made ahead of time and frozen until use for extra convenience.

8. Miracle Whip

Condiments can be sneaky. There's a mammoth amount of store-bought condiments that hide large amounts of sugar and sodium. Miracle Whip, though, is hiding high fructose corn syrup (although one could argue that it's not hidden very well since it's the third ingredient on the list). Miracle Whip is known for its slightly sweet, tangy, zippy flavor that makes it an interesting alternative to mayonnaise For some, Miracle Whip is a must on every sandwich and burger, and in dishes like coleslaw.

If you're in that camp, there's likely little we can do to convince you to swap your Miracle Whip for mayonnaise; the condiments are just too decidedly different. However, you may want to consider making your own Miracle Whip at home, sans the high fructose corn syrup. There are many copycat recipes out there that use regular mayonnaise and add a few ingredients, such as powdered sugar or stevia, to achieve that classic Miracle Whip flavor.

9. Pizza

As is the case with crackers and breakfast sandwiches, it's entirely possible to find frozen pizza that does not contain high fructose corn syrup (both Red Baron and DiGiorno offer high fructose corn syrup-free options). However, that's not always the case, so be sure to check the ingredients list carefully before throwing that frozen pie in your cart. For example, one popular option containing high fructose corn syrup in the crust is Celeste's pepperoni single-serve pizza.

If you're looking for an equally convenient pizza option, you'll be glad to know that many chain pizza restaurants have begun eliminating high fructose corn syrup from their recipes. Papa John's announced it would be removing high fructose corn syrup from its menu items in 2016, and other chains followed, including Donatos Pizza and Pizza Hut. However, it's worth noting that Pizza Hut's commitment to this removal was later questioned. Today, a quick search of Pizza Hut's ingredient statement shows that high fructose corn syrup appears in a range of menu items, including cheese sticks, cinnamon sticks, wings, and several dipping sauces.

10. Lunchables

A lot of processed foods aimed at children — packaged baked items, candies, cereals — are known for containing high fructose corn syrup, but do you really need to worry about this ingredient in the deli aisle? If you're picking up a few packs of Lunchables, you do. Depending on the Lunchables offering you buy, high fructose corn syrup might be hanging out in the ingredients list. 

Lunchables' ham and American cracker stackers, which come with Oscar Mayer lean ham, Kraft American cheese, crackers, and chocolate creme cookies, for example, contain it. You might suspect that this is due to the ham (in the past, some deli hams have contained high fructose corn syrup, though that's less of an issue nowadays), but the high fructose corn syrup is actually in the chocolate creme cookies. It's the same deal if you opt for similar Lunchables that come with vanilla creme cookies or the Lunchables bologna and cheese stackers that come with a chocolate chip cookie.

11. Pasta sauce

High fructose corn syrup and tomato products seem to go together. As already noted, it's been found in condensed tomato soup, and ketchup often contains it. So it shouldn't come as a huge surprise that tomato-based pasta sauces can contain high fructose corn syrup, too. Hunt's meat-flavored tomato pasta sauce, for example, has it, though it claims that the ingredient makes up less than 2% of the contents.

Luckily, there are plenty of pasta sauces, both tomato-based and otherwise, that allow you to get your pasta fix without ingesting any high fructose corn syrup. Prego, for one, opts for straight sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup, as does Ragú. You can even find some varieties of Hunt's pasta sauce that don't contain it, such as the garlic and herb sauce. That said, making your own pasta sauce at home is incredibly easy and no, you don't have to let it simmer on the stovetop for hours if you don't want to.