Is High Fructose Corn Syrup Really That Bad?

Discussion
Jul 07, 2006
Santi Briglia

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

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11 Comments on "Is High Fructose Corn Syrup Really That Bad?"


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Bernice Hurst
Guest
14 years 8 months ago

Why would anyone, other than its manufacturers, want to change consumer views of HFCS? Changing its names strikes me as dishonest and unethical and would quite likely (and deservedly) lead to even more consumer backlash when they figure out that the industry is trying to fool them yet again. Whether or not HFCS is worse than any other form of sugar is a red herring. I think people are finally beginning to realise that eating excessive amounts of food with any kind of sweetener is not clever.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
14 years 8 months ago

48 percent fructose/58 percent glucose ?????????
Obesity is caused by eating too much and exercising too little – really, it IS just that simple: as soon as a refiner calls it LFCS, the (non)problem will be solved; and the world has more important things to worry about… like stopping the Field’s>Macy*s nameicide.

John Lansdale
Guest
John Lansdale
14 years 8 months ago

Is corn syrup at all addicting? A search of that web site brings up nothing. Seem to me if corn syrup has been called crack, there should be some direct answer to the charge. The lack of an answer makes me even more sceptical. My advice: answer directly or say nothing.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
14 years 8 months ago

Following high school football practice in 100-degree weather in Kansas in the 60s, we cleaned out the Coke machine located outside the locker room. Five ounce Cokes in pinch-waist glass bottles made with real cane sugar. Down in a single gulp. Heaven.

Cane sugar tastes better, and beet sugar ain’t bad, either. So why so much corn sweetener? Corn subsidies, corn subsidies, corn subsidies. Our government spends $5.5 b-b-b-billion of our taxes annually to pay farmers to grow corn. That lowers the price and encourages use in processed foods. If HFCS proves to be unhealthful, hopefully corn subsidies will be reviewed more closely. (And by the way, any time you see an article about fueling cars with corn, remember that you will not only be paying for the fuel, but for the taxes that encouraged farmers to grow the corn.)

Daryle Hier
Guest
Daryle Hier
14 years 8 months ago

My answer would be once the public hears the demonizing, it’s all over but for the procession – there’s no turning the public’s opinion once the story is out. I am surprised that a story like this came out of the NY Times, but whether it’s HFCS or a replacement, the drum beat is on and one item after another will be next in an ongoing battle with the forces for socialized regulatory government.

Laura Davis-Taylor
Guest
Laura Davis-Taylor
14 years 8 months ago

I’m a jaded consumer after reading “Fast Food Nation” and digging into some of the realities of food additives such as HFCS. The cancer and obesity rate is much higher in the US and other developed countries than in those that still live off of locally farmed agriculture and natural foods. The links appears obvious. Call me crazy, but it still seems prudent to stick to nature as much as possible and not ingest chemically derived products that make production and consumption more profitable for the companies behind them.

Dan Nelson
Guest
Dan Nelson
14 years 8 months ago

The general population is increasingly aware of label ingredients, as witnessed in any supermarket, as shoppers compare labels now more than ever before. Misinformation easily leads to overly negative purchase behaviors that damage an ingredient’s true impact on health. The good news is shoppers are increasingly aware of product ingredients and their influence on health and obesity. The bad news comes when shoppers turn off to a misstatement.

Most simply stated, obesity is caused by taking in more calories than you burn over a period of time. Taking the time to exercise and live an active lifestyle solves obesity better than looking for demons or magic bullets in label ingredients. The combination of good nutritional awareness and eating habits, combined with an active lifestyle is the most important element to obesity control.

Karin Miller
Guest
Karin Miller
14 years 8 months ago

I believe that it is the increase in consumption of processed foods, not HFCS specifically, that is contributing to weight gain. If HFCS was eliminated, another sugar, which would probably behave the same way in the body, would be substituted.

Partially hydrogenated oils (“trans fats”), on the other hand, have been shown to increase triglycerides, so substituting healthier alternatives in processed foods is legitimate.

Leon Nicholas
Guest
Leon Nicholas
14 years 8 months ago

HFCS is one of an array of food “demons” out there that middle and upper-middle income food shoppers are eschewing. Soon, “No HFCS!!” text will be showing up on packaged foods as the industry reacts yet again to scary articles in Parents magazine. For consumers, the science can get lost in the rush to demonize, especially when it involves The Children.

Personally, I agree that there is too much unnecessary HFCS (does it need to be in bread?) out there, and it contributes to the obesity problem. The larger problem for food manufacturers is that they are on the wrong side of the trend toward healthier eating. Slapping “Trans Fat Free!” on the label is not nearly enough. The food supply chain is engineered toward processed, chem-foods, and until that changes, Grocery center store SKUs will keep collecting dust….

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 8 months ago

HFCS and conventional sugar both have negative images. Some “natural” products have ingredient labels saying “evaporated cane juice” instead of “sugar.” People want low calorie foods that taste great. Any product that solves the calorie/taste conundrum is a winner.

Karen Ribler
Guest
Karen Ribler
14 years 8 months ago

To the question – Will this new publicity about HFCS sway consumer perception and the media’s preoccupation with characterizing the sweetener as singularly dangerous to our health? My answer is – no. First of all (with all due respect to the New York Times) this story is not obtaining wide circulation. And it is not as exciting as stating – ha ha! – Here’s the culprit – it’s the HFCS they are slipping into our food.

The Corn Refiners Association has some work to do. Changing the name from HFCS isn’t such a bad idea.

It isn’t the sweetener…it is the amount of beverage, cake, whatever that is being consumed. Perhaps one should look at when the big gulp was introduced.

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