High fructose corn syrup and the alternative sweeteners debate

High fructose corn syrup and the alternative sweeteners debate

The controversy over HFCS has reached our shores. We have provided a media platform for the Corn Refiners Association to exhibit Webinars for our audience. On the other side, the consumers who are most leery of HFCS are also clients of New Hope – which champions the natural channel. What's your two cents?


I have two young daughters. One of them likes food to taste as bland as a suburb. The other has a sweet tooth so large that it ought to earn her title to at least a small plot of land in the vast sugar-cane fields on Maui.

Not so long ago, sugar – aka sucrose – was pegged as a boogeyman because of its caloric value of 4kcal/g. In addition, there's the cavity issue. Thus, the search began to find alternative sweetener sources. The U.S. FDA has approved seven of them: saccharin, aspartame, ACE-K, neotame, tagatose, sucralose and stevia. Questions have dogged most of them – saccharin was banned for a spell in the 1970s; aspartame was approved on dubious political grounds and has been alleged to cause brain cancer; ACE-K has liver issues; sucralose hasn't been tested for safety in children; while stevia only just recently received FDA approval after long hiding out in the shadows of the supplements industry.

And then there's high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). This sweetener gained widespread use in the food and beverage industries, and coincided with the rise of the obesity epidemic in America. Is it a victim of its own success because it's so inexpensive, which was largely responsible for the super-sizing of carbonated beverages? Or is there something unique in the processing of it that particularly leads to obesity? The corn industry will say the former, and is working overtime to reposition the messaging – so effectively that it was lampooned on Saturday Night Live this past March.

Both HFCS and sucrose contain fructose and glucose, but the 55 percent fructose in HFCS is unbound and ready for utilization, while sucrose's 50 percent fructose is bound to glucose, which means an extra metabolic step needs to be taken for the body to use it. A study last year at Princeton University found that rats fed HFCS all experienced obesity, vastly differently than those rodents fed sucrose.

If you want to talk guilt by association, there certainly is a link between the Princeton study and the marketing campaign by king corn to keep HFCS legit. And if those TV commercials don't work, an effort is also underway to rename HFCS as the much more friendly “corn sugar.” It just might work, though the sugar lobby is fighting mightily to prevent such a blurring. My hunch is that, much like how Silk brand soymilk was able to go to market against the protestations of the milk lobby, corn will trump sugar here. And consumers might be none the wiser for it.

The controversy over HFCS has reached our shores. We have provided a media platform for the Corn Refiners Association to exhibit Webinars for our audience. On the other side, the consumers who are most leery of HFCS are also clients of New Hope – which champions the natural channel.

Personally, I think the best we can do is to let the conversation flourish. If you're reading this online, post a comment. If you want to learn more – perchance to chime in – check out our Webinar series. The next one being presented by the Corn Refiners Association is later this summer. I'm all ears!

Todd Runestad
Editor-in-Chief
[email protected]

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