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Sugar coated: Just how bad is HFCS?

Sugar coated: Just how bad is HFCS?

Empty calories. Sugar. For many years, Delicious Living has suggested that lowering intake of processed sugars in whatever form is a good idea. But just how bad is sugar for us? In what quantities, and in which forms, is sugar okay? Among sugars, does high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) deserve the “evil” stamp it has gotten in recent years?

Everyone is hungry for definitive answers to these questions. After all, it's not just our waistlines that are at stake. If public opinion is any indication, the Corn Refiners Association’s mission to reverse the anti-HFCS sentiment hasn’t been all that successful. Recently the association submitted a petition to the FDA to rename HFCS “corn sugar” on the basis that “high fructose” is, in fact, misleading.

Last week a heated discussion erupted in New Hope Natural Media’s offices about a HFCS advertisement running on this website. The ad, sponsored by the Corn Refiners Association, links to Corn Naturally, promoting high fructose corn syrup. Aimed at manufacturers the site provides carefully crafted statements about HFCS and tips on how to handle consumer questions, such as “Is it true that high-fructose corn syrup is more processed than sugar?”

But is all of this nonsense over processing and terminology just splitting hairs? In a recent NYT article “Is Sugar Toxic?”, Gary Taubes takes a good look at a mounting body of evidence that sugar (cane or HFCS alike) may be at the root of the western world's most significant health issues. The picture isn’t pretty: Calories from refined sugars accumulate as fat, leading to metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, diabetes, and heart disease. Insulin resistance may also play a critical role in the spread of malignant cancers.

“I’ve been reporting on this subject and studying it for more than a decade,” Taubes concludes. “If sugar just makes us fatter, that’s one thing. But we are also talking about things we can’t see — fatty liver, insulin resistance and all that follows. Officially I’m not supposed to worry because the evidence isn’t conclusive, but I do.”

If the Corn Refiners Association is culpable, surely so are all of the companies that add refined sugars to their products. Look at labels: It’s not just Coke and Hostess who add excessive sugar to sodas and snacks. And it isn’t just HFCS. I’m pretty sure large amounts of "evaporated cane juice" aren’t good for us either.

Back to the advertisement on our website: The Corn Naturally site presents nothing obviously untruthful. New Hope Natural Media’s rigorous Standards Department in fact approved this advertisement. The question isn’t whether or not HFCS is worse than other sugars, but why it belongs in a space devoted to common sensical, science-backed health advice. That Delicious Living’s content appears next to the Corn Naturally advertisement bothers me. Perhaps it underscores just how confused our relationship to sweeteners can be—even in the natural products industry.

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