Making Sense of the Sugar Wars

ad courtesy of the Center for Consumer Freedom

ad courtesy of the Center for Consumer Freedom

The Corn Refiners Association is causing quite a stir with its print ads and television commercials pushing an image makeover for high fructose corn syrup. In one TV ad, a mother pours a glass of bright red punch; in another, a woman offers a cherry-colored Popsicle. In both commercials, the women are challenged to defend their choice of food containing high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Each has this ready response: high-fructose corn syrup is made from corn, has no artificial ingredients, and has the same calories as sugar. Of course they know to exercise moderation, as with any other natural sweetener but otherwise, they wonder, why all the fuss?

Is it possible that high-fructose corn syrup has gotten a bum rap?

The Center for Consumer Freedom is overseeing the image advertising on behalf of the Corn Refiners Association. Media consultants with a portfolio that includes campaigns to raise the legal level of blood alcohol in drivers and to allow higher levels of mercury in fish, the CCF wants to burnish HFCS‘s reputation with the notion that sugar is sugar is sugar: same calories, same carbohydrates, same handling by the body once it’s in the bloodstream. And it comes from corn with no added artificial ingredients. Just like honey, say the ads.

HFCS is the product of an elaborate, refining process. Three enzymes (two of which have been genetically modified) are used in a series of processes that isomerize and convert the sugar compounds, prior to a liquid chromatography step, before the sugary slurry is pumped into tankers for shipping. Ok, not just like honey, but why quibble?

The CCF campaign focuses the argument on the nature of sugars, allowing it to sidestep the other objections to HFCS, like the trace mercury levels that remain after processing, and the environmental and economic havoc wreaked by industrially-grown corn, a government-subsidized, genetically-modified, over-planted, factory-farmed monoculture.

Large-scale food processors love high fructose corn syrup. It mixes easily, extends shelf-life, helps breads brown and keeps them soft, prevents freezer burn, and best of all, it’s cheaper than any other sweetener. Unexpected amounts of HFCS can be found in hot dog buns and English muffin, mayonnaise and salsa, cereals, sodas, spaghetti sauce, frozen entrees, ketchup – you name it. And therein lies the real danger.

Rising rates of childhood obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other weight-related illnesses over the past few decades have mirrored a rise in HFCS consumption. Sugar consumption, eclipsed by HFCS in this period, has actually declined. Even as the Corn Refiners Association advocates moderation in its ads, the stealthy, insidious use of HFCS in processed foods, particularly those aimed at children, makes this next to impossible.

A bum rap for high-fructose corn syrup or a sweet deception by the Center for Consumer Freedom?
I for one will be watching those ads with a grain of salt. Or sugar.

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7 Responses to Making Sense of the Sugar Wars

  1. Ladystardragon says:

    Yeah… Love the name change like I love a hemorrhoid!! They must think we’re freakin’ idiots to buy this line of crap!! Unfortunately, we Americans are overwhelmed with tons of misinformation… perhaps, they are just hoping to slide by a little longer, till they can come up with their next incarnation of CRAP!!

  2. Janice says:

    You must love the HFCS name change!

  3. May says:

    High Fructose Corn Syrup is NOT just a sugar! That is like saying trans fat is JUST fat and is just same as olive oil. It does NOT occur naturally in foods. High Fructose Corn Syrup has been genetically modified by synthetically raising the levels of fructose in regular sugar. Because fructose is sweet, it enables companies to make their product super cheap.

    Watch the movie “Super Size Me.” The lead character was NOT over consuming, yet by consistently eating processed foods filled with corn syrup and other preservative he not only gained weight, he felt awful and lost his libido. YIKES!

  4. Pingback: The Sweetener Formerly Known As... | Gigabiting

  5. Steve says:

    Sucrose (table sugar) is 50-50 fructose-glucose. HFCS is generally 55-45 fructose-glucose. Glucose is processed as energy. Fructose is metabolized in the liver exactly as ethanol (booze) is. It is stored as fat. A high fructose diet IS a high fat diet. Add to that rancid/oxidized vegetable oils used in cooking instead of stable saturated fats (the best being coconut oil), and you have a prescription for early onset atherosclerosis (heart disease), caused by inflammation as the body tries to cope (blood markers are C-reactive protein, Lp(a), and homocystein). Look those up! Have your doc run those blood tests to find out if you are at risk. And do some research on cholesterol. It’s not evil. It’s an essential precursor to bile salts, vitamin D (with sun exposure), testosterone, estrogen; it’s a blood vessel protector and healer, and your liver makes 1000mg/day (mostly for bile).

  6. Bonnie says:

    “Sugar consumption, eclipsed by HFCS in this period, has actually declined.”

    This is nonsense. HFCS is sugar. We’re getting fatter because we eat too much sugar, regardless of the source. While the article correctly lists the many economic and ecological disadvantages of using corn as a sweetener, I disagree that there is a nutritional disadvantage. HFCS contains glucose and fructose, just like cane sugar, just like honey and most fruit sugars. The fact that the enzymes are applied in a factory rather than, say, a bee’s stomach, is not a scientific reason for rejecting corn syrup as unhealthful.

  7. Ban HFCS says:

    HFCS joins an exclusive club by being defended by CCF. “Non-profit” is such an interesting designation….


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