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Thursday, September 23, 2010

It's about the amount

There's this trend recently of products being marketed as free of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), the name getting so stigmatized that the corn syrup manufacturers of the USA are trying to rebrand the product as "corn sugar". For some (rather vocal) folks, the very mention of HFCS elicits visceral reactions of disgust coupled with exhortations of the virtues of cane sugar.

But scientifically, any evidence linking health problems to specifically to the nature of HFCS vs cane sugar (sucrose) has been tenuous at best; unambiguously, the issue is in the total amount of sugar consumed in either form. Unfortunately, almost universally, processed products that advertise removal of HFCS continue to promote the consumption of high amounts of simple sugars, simply swapping out the form for a more expensive version.

But people see going to continue to preach about the better tasting sodas made with cane sugar (I suspect that blind tastings will demonstrate that most people cannot tell the difference), even though demonstrably, health benefits come from cutting down all sugary drinks. Artificial sweeteners are no panacea either - but that's a topic of another post.


  1. This rebranding business is more fishy than corny, no?

  2. That's why I have maybe one Coke/soda every few months. No need to swill those several times a day like many people do.

  3. From Hunt's ketchup FAQ: "Hunt's simply uses sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup in its 100% Natural Ketchup."

  4. I wonder if a lot of these correlational studies between HFCS and diabesity can't be explained by HFCS's artifical cheapness.

    How cheap would soda and crummy white bread be if we didn't subsidize corn growers and thus the price of HFCS and thus the prices of HFCS products?

  5. @KPeff indeed, the artificial cheapness of HFCS results in it's incorporation into a lot of processed food items, but that is because sugar sells. However, its correlation with obesity and diabetes is a red herring, because that is a behavioral issue, where it's the increased consumption of cheap simple carbohydrates, usually in the form of soda, that produces the physiological effect.

  6. In my limited understanding of digestion, the body handles the breaking down of cane sugar (sucrose) much better. I'm not willing to argue the health portion of one vs the other any deeper than that.

    I also believe HFCS is also sweeter, but I understand there is an argument to be made that recipes could just increase the cane sugar amount to adjust sweetness. However, HFCS is cheap (partially govt subsidized), so there is a pretty logical argument that foods would become less "over-sweetened" if HFCS wasn't so cheap. There may be a macro health benefit from the change.

    Maybe I'm just rambling...