In 2010, the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) began producing TV commercials defending and promoting the usage of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as a sweetener. What is it about HFCS that gave it a bad reputation in the first place? My guess is that it’s the “syrup” part. That word doesn’t exactly scream “healthy.” Regardless, I’ve done the research and made my conclusion about HFCS – read more for the answer! For now, check out of the CRA’s promotional advertisements:
First, let’s think about what HFCS is. What makes it different from table sugar?
In the 1970s, there were increased taxes on sugar but subsidies on corn, “making it a much cheaper sweetener than table sugar” (American Chemical Society). Using advanced chemical processes, sweetener manufactures began to break down corn into corn starch, then into corn syrup, and then into glucose, a monosaccharide (basic building block of carbohydrates). However, fructose (also a monosaccharide) is naturally sweeter than glucose, so they broke the glucose down even further. Think about it like this:
Table sugar is sucrose, a polysaccharides (poly = many, polysaccharides = many monosaccharides). The connection: there’s no nutritional difference between using sucrose as a sweetener verses using fructose! My information comes from a video produced by the American Chemical Society on March 31, 2015 and seen on BusinessInsider.com just last week. Check it out here:
Does it seem like I’ve made it pretty clear that HFCS is no worse than sugar to sweeten your favorite foods? I hope so, because that was my goal. However, the topic has historically been controversial in the medical community. On his blog in 2014, Dr. Mark Hyman strongly criticizes HFCS as a sweetener option and condemns the CRA for funding a commercial campaign to promote the safety of HFCS as a viable sweetener. Hyman’s main points denouncing HFCS are two questionable claims:
- HFCS consumption causes obesity, diabetes, and other problems
- HFCS contains mercury
First of all, Hyman should not be so quick to shun HFCS for causing obesity. Table sugar (sucrose) does the exact same thing when overconsumed. The key is that both HFCS and sugar are acceptable sweeteners when used in moderation. HFCS is included by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on the list of “Generally Recognized As Safe” (GRAS) food. The FDA also states that they “are not aware of any evidence… that there is a difference in safety between foods containing [high fructose corn syrup] and foods containing similar amounts of other nutritive sweeteners with approximately equal glucose and fructose content, such as sucrose, honey, or other traditional sweeteners.”
The FDA is undoubtedly reliable, but if you would like to hear more about the claim that HFCS contains mercury, Dr. Jim Laidler explains in further detail in this short video:
In addition, the video produced by the ACS and posted by Business Insider cites multiple reliable scientific journals, including a study published in Advances in Nutrition just two years ago.
The average American consumes 23 tablespoons of sugar a day, when you should consume less than 10 (According to the video)! Whether you are eating food sweetened by table sugar (sucrose) or high fructose corn syrup, the dangers of overconsumption are the same. Eat your sweets in moderation!
Sources: American Chemical Society, Corn Refiners Association, United States Food and Drug Administration, Business Insider