Is High Fructose Corn Syrup Really That Bad?
By Santi Briglia
Among the major culprits blamed for the alarming rise of obesity in the United States is the addition of high fructose corn syrup in a wide variety of foods and beverages as a more cheaply produced substitute for processed sugar. But, as an article in the New York Times points out, many scientists say there is little data to support the demonization of HFCS.
Called “the crack of sweeteners” by one Florida State Representative, the furor surrounding HFCS — that it is somehow evil, or at least worse than the processed white sugar it replaces — began with an article published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2004 by two scientists, Barry M. Popkin, a nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and George A. Bray, a professor of medicine at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La. They observed that the climbing obesity rate seemed to coincide with the rising rate of HFCS consumption since 1980.
“It was a theory meant to spur science, but it’s quite possible that it may be found out not to be true,” Professor Popkin said. “I don’t think there should be a perception that high-fructose corn syrup has caused obesity until we know more.”
“There’s no substantial evidence to support the idea that high-fructose corn syrup is somehow responsible for obesity,” said Dr. Walter Willett, the chairman of the nutrition department of the Harvard School of Public Health and a prominent proponent of healthy diets. “If there was no high-fructose corn syrup, I don’t think we would see a change in anything important. I think there’s this overreaction.”
Threatening more than 20 years of uninterrupted sales growth, the recent backlash against the ingredient has gotten the attention of its corporate sponsors. Audrae Erickson, president of the Corn Refiners Association, a trade group in Washington that represents the biggest makers of high-fructose corn syrup, launched a web site, HFCSFacts.com, to counter criticism of the sweetener, and provide factual information on its safety. So far these efforts have had little influence, to the point that the trade group recently considered changing the ingredient’s name. “It really does have this negative connotation,” she said.
Moderator’s Comment: Will this new publicity about HFCS sway consumer perception and the media’s preoccupation with characterizing the sweetener as singularly
dangerous to our health? Will it help reverse the downward trend in sweetened soft drink sales?
It is fascinating to note that common sugar is 50 percent fructose, and 50 percent glucose. HFCS is 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose for the variety
used in beverages, but it’s 42 percent fructose/58 percent glucose for the type used in products like baked goods, yogurt, and jams – i.e. not a whole lot of difference and some
forms of HFCS even have less fructose than processed sugar.
It’s also worth noting that, though the data seems to indicate that HFCS isn’t the highly dangerous substance that alters body chemistry and causes obesity
that it’s been hyped to be, it’s still a processed, high calorie sweetener, and moderation is still necessary. –
Santi Briglia – Moderator