Natural Foods Merchandiser
NFM Secret Shopper: What's the difference between high-fructose corn syrup and sugar?

NFM Secret Shopper: What's the difference between high-fructose corn syrup and sugar?

Each month, NFM’s secret shopper heads incognito into a natural products store with a question. The employee’s answer—and our expert’s evaluation of the response—is reported here. Our aim: to help you improve your store’s customer service.

NFM: What’s the difference between high-fructose corn syrup and sugar?

Store (Mid-sized health food store in the Midwest): Well, sugar hasn’t been stripped and processed. It hasn’t had all of the good stuff taken out. Corn syrup is processed and just one part of the plant.

NFM:  So you’re saying that there’s good stuff in sugar?

Store:  Yes, raw sugar actually isn’t that bad for you. It’s that brownish kind of sugar you see. There are other nutrients in there; I’m not sure what exactly.

NFM:  Is there a difference between how they act in your body?

Store: I’m not sure … that’s a good question for Google!

How did this retailer do?

Our expert evaluator: Ashley Koff, RD, author of Mom Energy: A Simple Plan to Live Fully Charged (Hay House, 2011):

There are significant differences between HFCS and sugar, but the employee failed to clearly explain these differences and instead directed the shopper to Google—not the best customer service. That aside, the retailer could have explained that sugar exists in nature, and HFCS is a man-made creation. When we consume processed products, they function differently in the body. In the case of HFCS, the body has to break down the higher fructose content. A Princeton University research team found that rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained more weight than those with access to table sugar, even though their overall caloric intake was the same. As a dietitian, I recommend avoiding HCFS completely and consuming added sugar in small quantities.

After explaining the differences in sugar and HFCS, the retailer could have acknowledged that there are several natural sources of sugar. When minimally processed, each type retains some of the nutrients from its original source. For example, coconut palm sugar contains trace minerals found in the coconut palm tree. The same could be said for organic cane sugar, molasses and honey. I recommend selecting a sweetener based on taste preferences and cooking goals.

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