3BL Media

Sure, let`s call HFCS what it really is - by Michael Prager


Source: 3BL Media

From Marion Nestle, I learned this week that the FDA is taking comments through this week on the Corn Refiners Association request to change the name of high fructose corn syrup to corn sugar.

Previously, she says, she didn't oppose the move, on the grounds that it didn't matter, except, of course to the corn refiners, since HFCS has come under suspicion as a particular cause of the nation's obesity crisis, and some bottlers have taken to using  — and touting — 'real sugar,' which is a back-handed slap at HFCS. Now Nestle has changed her mind, for reasons I don't quite understand, even though she reprinted the entirety of her public comment to the FDA on her blog.

So many issues come up in this discussion. More important than what it's called is whether HFCS, a sweetener refined from corn, really is more harmful than 'real' sugar, which is refined from beets, sugar cane, or some other plant. That has been a subject of intense debate among scientists, including University of North Carolina researcher Dr. Barry Popkin, who began in that camp but has since changed his position.

(An aside: Yet another question is whether it is all fructose, not just HFCS, that is a bane to our health, as maintained by University of Colorado researcher Dr. Richard Johnson, author of the convincing book 'The Sugar Fix.')

The corn refiners want to change the name because HFCS has been villainized, in part by people who observe, correctly, that its formulation by Japanese chemists in the 1970s coincided with the explosion of obesity in America. But to me, that's an example of 'good observation, wrong conclusion.' We should blame not chemistry but economics: Because government agriculture policy makes corn in all its forms is artificially cheap, food processors could afford to add sweetener far more liberally than had been economical, and it began appearing in a broad range of un-sweet products, such as salad dressings, ketchup, lunch meats, bread, etc.

Customer comments

  1. By Cynthia Papierniak on

    Hi Michael, The Japanese didn't create the formula for HFCS. That was done by two corn refiners, Earl and Kooi, in the late 50"s. They synthesized the enzyme that converted the glucose to fructose. However, this enzyme was too expensive to just throw in the the vat with the corn syrup. The CRA was stuck until Japanese researchers in the late 60's developed a chromatographic method. By allowing the corn (glucose) syrup to be filtered through a column that was "charged" with the converting enzyme, they were able to convert the glucose to fructose as it dripped through. More importantly, this method allowed for reuse of the enzyme. As soon as the CRA scientists got back from Japan they started plans to outfilt their plants with the new methodology. As to your statment "We should blame not chemsitry but economics". Yes, it is true the sugar tariff/corn subsidy has yielded very cheap corn and corn derived products, but the chemistry of HFCS has played a role in the surge of obesity. Cane and beet sugar are disaccharides; the simple sugars, fructose and glucose are chemically bonded. This means you can throw a sugar bowl against the wall and you will still have sucrose. The fructose and glucose that comprise sucrose, will by definition always be in the ratio 1:1. HFCS is only a mixture of fructose and glucose. The ratio of fructose:glucose in HFCS is man made and has been greatly maniupulated by the CRA. Their original intention, probably, was to simulate sucrose like sweetness. Older literature refs show that HFCS-42, 42% fructose:58% glucose, achieved a grade of 100, or sucrose like sweetness. However, in 1984 when Big Soda switched to HFCS, the formula was now HFCS-55. (I find it interesting that more recent literature lists HFCS-55, not HFCS-42, as having a sucrose equivalence of 100.) Many well credentialed nutritional experts believe that 55% fructose is close enough to 50:50. Personally, I think that the 10% difference in fructose tips the scales. If you do the math, and calculate the fructose:glucose ratio in HFCS-55 you find out that in every American Coke there is, compared to glucose, 22% more fructose. Run that by any mathematician. In 2010, Dr. Goran's team at USC surveyed the local fast food establishmnets and found that some samples of BOTTLED soda had 65% fructose. Again the numbers can fool you. HFCS-65 has 20% more fructose than HFCS-55 and a whopping 30% more fructose than sucrose sweetened soda. Could the CRA be making their sweetener even sweeter? The better qeustion is why. ADM's website advertises they make Cornsweet90, HFCS-90, which is used to sweeten low-cal products. Ostensibly food manufacturers can impart the same sweetness with half the calories. A real caloric bargain until you consider that your liver is receiving double the fructose. (btw: I've been sharing this information about Cornsweet90, and that product page has now been removed from ADM's website.) So why would the CRA monkey with the formula. Here are my guesses: first, the process of making HFCS is not inexpensive. Making it sweeter, allows the end manufacturers to use less. Second, the diet soda revolution has probably cut into the profits of sugar sweetened sodas, and therefore affects the CRA. What better way to compete with diet soda, than to make the caloric brew a little sweeter. Finally, and I realize this has a conspiratorial overtones, but maybe the CRA has their own lab rats at ADM, Cargill and CornPI. Maybe they found out their HFCS drunk rats grew fat. lazy, and just wanted to guzzle more. Who knows? Finally, as for the CRA's petition to the FDA to change HFCS-----> corn sugar. I'd bet my Steinway grand piano that it is a two step stragegy. Step 1 HFCS--> "corn sugar" Setp 2 "corn sugar"---sugar. The first step is the hardest. The public is well aware of the term HFCS. HFCS has been shown to be really HFCSs. The % range in HFCS is a vast 42-90% fructose. Crystalline fructose, the CRA's latest weapon, is just an extreme form of HFCS. It is generated from the same process. 30% of the nation has some degree of fructose intolerance/fructose maladsorption. It is critical that those afflicted know which products contain HFCS. Step 2 : corn sugar--> sugar. This step would be easy. The precedent has already been established. When sugar is listed as an ingredient, its origin, whether from cane or beets, is not. Let's work together so the FDA doesn't acquiesce to their petition for name change. Cynthia Papierniak