High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) consumption is at a 20-year low with more than half of Americans believing corn sugar poses health risks. Consumers have become label-savvy when it comes to picking out HFCS on an ingredient list and companies including Gatorade, Sara Lee, Hunt’s ketchup, and Thomas English muffins have publicly removed HFCS from their ingredients.
HFCS has been around for decades and is the cheapest and most shelf-stable form of sugar on the market. HFCS is made by changing the glucose in cornstarch to fructose (a sugar naturally found in fruits) and the result is a combination of glucose and fructose, just like sugar. HFCS comprises just over half of the added sugars in our food supply but American’s consumption of sugar is up 50% from the 1970’s. It’s clear what’s really the problem, no?
Sweet Surprise is a multi-million dollar campaign put out by the Corn Refiners Association who have aired new commercials refuting any difference between corn sugar and cane sugar. That video can be viewed on the right side of the page.
A few other commercials have been put out by Sweet Surprise, and it’s definitely worth taking a few seconds to view them.
The Corn Refiners Association is petitioning the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to have the name high fructose corn syrup changed to corn sugar. This is a potentially brilliant endeavor. When low erucic acid rapeseed oil was renamed canola oil, sales went up. Nothing about the product changed other than its name, and consumers bought it. Pun intended 😉
The difference in fructose/glucose composition of HFCS compared to sugar is negligible and to date there is no resolute data supporting the dangers of HFCS over sugar on “weight hormones” such as leptin, ghrelin, and insulin. Some rat studies have shown that HFCS promotes obesity more so than other sugars, but other studies have negated the very same claims. Basically, there are no definitive answers in the science world…yet.
It seems as though consumers want an “all-natural” sugar that offers sound nutrition and is “healthy” in abundance. Bottom line: sugar is sugar and should be used in moderation. Unlike the Sweet Surprise videos portrait, moderation is NOT in the form of Kool-Aid and sugary breakfast cereals…there are much better alternative out there. And whether Starbucks baked goods are made with HFCS or cane sugar, they will contain the same number of calories and have identical nutrition stats. Americans simply need to get down to business and limit ALL sugars and processed foods.
I would urge consumers to not get caught up in the gimmicks surrounding such issues. Why not assess labels for the lowest sugar content (grams per serving) rather than purchasing a high sugar product just because it contains sugar and not HFCS?
Is HFCS safe? I think so.
Is it the most “natural” sugar available? Nope.
Is HFCS over-used? I think so.
Is HFCS to blame for America’s obesity epidemic? I don’t think so.
I think this debate is very interesting, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Question: Do you think HFCS is worse than sugar? Do you avoid HFCS? Why or why not?
Credible, wonderful sources:
Journal of Nutrition, Misconceptions about high-fructose corn syrup… American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, High-fructose corn syrup, energy intake, and appetite regulation
P.S. Thanks, Kerstin for such a wonderful topic request!! 😀
Down with too much sugar,
Great post! I’ve been hearing about the potential name change, and for those uneducated abt it, I’m sure it would make a difference. However, like you said, sugar is sugar people! I try to limit the amounts of processed foods my family eats and buy things with a low overall sugar content. But, I have been guilty of putting something back on the shelf just b/c I see HFCS in the list of ingredients. It has gained quite a bad reputation, but again, it’s total sugar consumption that is causing the obesity epidemic (and too much fat, refined foods and not enough exercise!). If manufacturers really want to make a difference, they need to decrease the sugars, additives, chemicals, etc in the food – not just ‘corn sugar’. That’s my 2 cents anyway 🙂
I tend to view HFCS as a “food-like product” a la Michael Pollan. And for the reasons stated many times throughout his writings, I choose to avoid it. Basically, I try to stay eat food closest to its most natural state – and HFCS does not apply to that mantra.
Nice informative post…
Very interesting – hadn’t heard this before. It’s funny how we get hung up on one little thing and miss the big picture.
That said I love all my sugars! And had two donuts last night ;).
I agree– I get so tired of people going ON and ON about how bad HFCS is, while they guzzle down “natural” sugars like agave, brown rice syrup, and honey. IT’S ALL SUGAR!!! 🙂
I try to look at the sugar grams in a product. That said, I do find myself not buying things with HFCS just because. I know that it’s the same as sugar, but I’ve fallen victim to the hype, I guess.
I totally agree with this post, but after reading Omnivore’s Dilemma I do have some issues with HFCS. I don’t think it’s any worse for us than sugar BUT it angers me that it’s so freaking cheap, and that the government is paying farmers to continue producing more and more and more, so that American’s will eat more and more and more, and thus expand their bellies because they can afford this food at cheap prices!!! Ugh. Read the book, you’ll see what I mean. But, in reality, HFCS is the scapegoat. If it wasn’t HFCS, it would be something else. So it’s true, HFCS is basically just SUGAR, no if’s and’s or but’s about it!
I think the reason HFCS is linked to the obesity epidemic is because it’s used in more processed foods than sugar. Only in the past year have sodas even started using sugar, and soda consumption is a huge contributor to obesity. Plus, for a while at least, people didn’t associate it in the ingredients with calories as they may have sugar. (Though I think those days are over.) All that said, the name change is pretty ridiculous.
And we’re on the same page–I just blogged about this today!
Sugar is sugar is sugar. It’s all bad for you, I think. Things like molasses and maple syrup have more minerals, but are still sugar.
I hate when products that are trying to market themselves as healthy list “cane sugar” in their ingredient list as if that’s somehow better than “beet sugar” or just plain “sugar”.
I like how you laid it all out here. I do limit my consumption of HFCS…exactly the same way as I limit my consumption of ALL forms of sugar. Sure, I prefer to use more “natural” sugars – like honey and maple syrup – but at the same time I prefer to add them MYSELF (say, to plain yogurt) so that I can control the amount.
I just try to limit the stuff all around, but I don’t think it’s the worst thing in the world.
I agree that we need to just limit our sugar intake in general but I am iffy about HFCS. I’m waiting for more research. However, I try to steer clear of it and limit consumption of added sugars as well (I’ve also cut back on my use of artificial sweeteners).
I think it is overused but I also think it is not the only thing to blame! I don’t use it but I also don’t avoid it, I prefer to have more natural foods but it I have some its ok.
I was literally writing a post similar to this one. It seems to be the new talk of the blogosphere! I think those commericials are ridiculous and I always get upset when I see them. I avoid HFCS at all costs. Mostly because it’s in foods that are highly processed and unhealthy. I also avoid it in condimetns and breads. I just think that it’s better safe than sorry. The methods they use to convert to fructose could also be an issue so my husband and I chose to avoid it all together. But you are right, in the end, we all need to watch our sugar in take and limit processed foods! Americans are quick to blame everything and everyone else but themselves for their weight problems.
My husband and I have had many discussions about this. I know HFCS isn’t any better or worse than sugar, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to run out and start buying popsicles and cokes again. Like you said, cutting down on the amount of sugar is important regardless of whether it’s HFCS or cane sugar. I personally want less of all of it.
I’m so glad you wrote about this! You hear so often “HFCS is bad, stay away!” but how many people could tell you exactly WHY it’s “bad”? Not me! I read “Food Rules” by Michael Pollan, and he basically said it’s not that it’s any worse than sugar or agave nectar or maple syrup – it’s that it’s in EVERYthing. I mean, ketchup? Bread? So I do avoid it in things like that. But I don’t think it’s tons worse than any other form of sugar – just more common, maybe?
I’ve read that there are discernible amounts of mercury in HFSC. Any validity to this statement?
I attempt to consume a modest amount of sugar in my diet… which is a challenge because of my insatiable sweet tooth. As a compromise between my cravings and my health conscience, I cut way down on sweeteners in baked goods and desserts, and always use unrefined sweeteners such as date sugar, evaporated cane juice, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, etc.
I stay away from HFCS not only because it is highly processed, but also because the production of the sweetener has negative effects on the environment (more chemicals required to produce it).
“Basically, there are no definitive answers in the science world…yet.”
The response to this lack of evidence should be a removal of HFCS from our food system until it’s determined to be SAFE, not the other way around. Why should Americans be forced to be guinea pigs?
The name change is illustrative of the misinformation industrialized food relies on to keep people from making informed decisions.
@Lauren, yes, here’s the link- http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/26/AR2009012601831.html
(This is particularly scary when we consider consumption by children and pregnant women!)
Aside from its lack of demonstrated safety, I’m opposed to HFCS because it only exists thanks to subsidies from the government, which come at too high of a cost. Farmer’s see this as their only way to make a stable living (when in fact it isn’t that stable, just in comparison) plus it means entire states (like my home state Iowa) are growing a single crop. Any farmer will tell you that putting the same crop into the ground year after year will destroy the soil.
There are tons of reasons to avoid HFCS. Yes, sugar should be eaten in moderation only, but HFCS shouldn’t be eaten at all. I think you can see how confused most people are about this, and that is exactly what the industry wants.
I am confused as to the lack of safety? It is chemically the same as sugar cane and so if that is deemed safe why would HFCS not be the same? Do you have research articles demonstrating this to show the science is not there? I am not sure you have all the information when making claims that HFCS should not be eating at all but that table sugar is OK in moderation. Sorry to jump in with a comment, but I am just not sure where you are getting your information.
Great post. I think blamed is misplaced on this topic. Did you read my Thursday thoughts post a few weeks ago about this exact topic. Sugar is sugar is sugar and well, too much sugar in any form, even from natural honey, is too much sugar and the calories are the same, just as you have stated. Everyone wants something to blame and I think HFCS is unfairly blamed. That being said too much is not good for you, and moderation applies. Not sure how I feel about the name change but I am sure consumers will be smart to this and will vilify it again in the future. I wish people would take some of the responsibility for their food choices and stop blaming the food industry. The industry gets some blame, but not all.
Excellent post Nicole! Sugar is sugar . . . bottom line! 😀
You know, I probably should pay a little bit more attention to HFCS and what foods I put in my mouth that may or may not include it, but… I don’t. I figure it I eat mostly natural, fresh foods and exercise, that is doing the best I can do without going too far over the edge!
People make such a big fuss over HFCS. Like you say, sugar is sugar and you still want to limit it.
I do actually think changing the name might be a good move since right now HFCS gets such a bad rep.
I don’t know if I will proclaim my opinion on the controversy surrounding HFCS, but I will say, products that use sugar, plain old refined sugar or unrefined for all that matters, TASTE better. I believe sugar leaves the pallet with a much cleaner taste. IDK…maybe I am crazy…maybe not.
My avoidance of HFCS is more that I felt like it was hidden in everything I eat. I love a Coke as much as the next person ( probably more- I’m from Atlanta :)) but it just felt sneaky finding HFCS in my bread, ketchup, yougurt ect. I gave up sodas to be healthier but I was essentially getting the same thing in everything else I ate.
I know HFCS is not evil and isn’t responsible for my weight gain or the obesity epidemic, but I don’t like finding HFCS in everything I eat so I started paying attention and avoiding it when unnecessary- as I do all “processed food creations”.
That’s interesting companies are changing the name. Sugar is definitely sugar no matter what form it comes in. There are even reports that agave syrup may be just as bad as HSCS. I agree with many of the comments above. I have also read the Michael Pollan books and agree that sugars are hidden everywhere in the American’s diet. HFCS is the cheapest form of sugar available which is why it’s in so many products. People need to learn when reading labels not just to look for HFCS but all types of sugars.
I thought I recalled something from when I was reading In Defense of Food of food about fructose being processed in the liver and stored as fat, where as other sugars are processed in the intestines – but I could just be making stuff up now. 😉
Sugar is sugar and should definitely be limited.
I avoid HFCS. I once watched a 20/20 episode or one of those shows about how hot dogs are made and I’ve never eaten one again even though I know there are better hot dogs around now.
After watching the documentary King Corn, I decided to avoid products with HFCS since when the filmmakers made HFCS, it just looked like an awful chemistry experiment…
This is a great post Nicole! Those commercials are everywhere around here and I think you are right: Americans need to reduce sugar consumption of all types. I think some of the other issues regarding HFCS is the controversy around the subsidies and the ridiculous amount of processed foods it is found in, but I suppose that is another topic for another day 🙂
i saw this topic on another blog and it was definitely a shocker to hear. it goes against the (no pun int.) ‘grain’ of what a great portion of the food industry and medical community has tried to bring awarness of..and now the system is ‘softening’ its name? crazy! as long as we all know its bad for us, i hope we wont be fooled. but corn sugar definitely will stump and fool many when they skim through the ingredients and dont see ‘high-fructose’..no matter how vigilant they are. eeek.
Thanks for this post Nicole, I really enjoyed reading your thoughts 🙂 I’m going to continue to avoid it where I can, but not stress over consuming a bit either.
I’m coming to this a little late, but I just posted on HFCS today and then found a link to your post.
We avoid HFCS, for many reasons. I read about mercury contamination, and I wonder if it’s harmful. I am trying to avoid GMO foods as much as possible. HFCS is made from Monsanto’s GMO corn and I think Monsanto is a bad company with terrible ethics. I question the use of our tax dollars to subsidize corn/HFCS, which has no nutritional value, at the same time they can barely squeak 6 cents for more nutritious lunches in schools. The research on HFCS/obesity is inconclusive – we don’t really know if it causes it or not, but a correlation has been found between liver scarring and HFCS. Anyway, I wrote about it all today on my blog, along with links.
I think saying HFCS is the same as table sugar is not accurate.