Consumers have it right: HFCS isn’t just another form of sugar

Posted by
April 17, 2014


A proposed new law in California would require warning labels to be placed on soft drinks stating that “Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.”

Unfortunately, what this bill does is to further blur the difference between “sugar,” which was used in soft drinks for many years, and “sugars,” which is Food and Drug Administration terminology for all caloric sweeteners – most notably high fructose corn syrup, which is now used in practically all the non-diet sodas now on the market.

It’s an important distinction. And it’s one that has already been clouded all too often by the use of the common misleading expression “sugary drinks.”

But those in the business do know the difference.

Take Pepsi.  It is now about to introduce a new line of soft drinks that are “made with real sugar,” representing a return to the days before HFCS started replacing actual sugar in most processed foods and beverages. No doubt, the company is hoping this move will help reverse the steady decline in soda sales we talked about in a blog last week.

Of course, what we’ve been hearing a lot lately from nutritionists, media, politicians (such as ex-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg) and the Corn Refiners Association,  is that “sugar is sugar.”

And we agree — sugar is indeed sugar.  But sugar isn’t high fructose corn syrup — either in actuality or in the way it’s defined by the Food and Drug Administration (even though, confusingly, both are classified as “added sugars”).

So when commentators try to tell you that this is merely a matter of perception and that you’re “deluded” and “misguided” if you think there’s any real difference, as one recently did, they’re flat out wrong. Because there’s a significant body of scientific research that contradicts their position. And it turns out that consumers, a majority of whom (that is, 58 percent) ranked HFCS as one of their top food safety concerns during a 2008 survey, are a lot smarter than they’re given credit for being.

And what really matters is that those consumers are increasingly using their purchasing power to show that the addition of a cheap, unnatural and (in the opinion of numerous experts) unhealthy sweetener to foods and beverages is something they’re no longer willing to unquestioningly accept.

How one risk factor leads to another

A number of studies, many done by leading universities, have already linked HFCS consumption to various health problems, from the obesity and diabetes epidemics (which didn’t exist before HFCS became a substitute for sugar in numerous products and was added to many others) to heart and kidney ailments, metabolic syndrome, the development of pancreatic cancer, memory and learning disabilities, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

That last association was made by University of Florida Division of Nephrology researchers, who concluded that that “the pathogenic mechanism underlying the development of NAFLD may be associated with excessive dietary fructose consumption.”

And now comes word of yet another study that in turn, links NAFLD with obesity and a high risk of heart disease – this one done at Saint Luke’s Health System’s Liver Disease Management Center in Kansas City, Mo.

When researchers in this study took upper-abdominal CT scans of nearly 400 patients, they found that those with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease were more likely to have coronary artery disease. The risks that poses, they concluded, was stronger than other more traditional risk factors for heart disease, such as smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and metabolic syndrome.

Of course, the Corn Refiners Association and others who have tried to misrepresent HFCS as just another form of sugar (when they’re not touting it as a “natural” substance, which it also isn’t) will tell you that it contains the same amount of fructose as sugar does.  But, as we’ve often pointed out here at Food Identity Theft, that’s very often not the case, as high fructose corn syrup has been found have significantly higher amounts of fructose – which in some cases is as “excessive” as 90 percent (it wasn’t called “high fructose ” for nothing). In addition, the fructose and glucose of sugar are chemically bound together, in HFCS, they’re not – and many doctors and researchers consider that to be part of the problem.

Oh, and one more thing. Dr. John Helzburg, who helped lead this latest study, noted in a press release that “(i)f current trends continue”, the prevalence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease “is expected to increase to 40 percent of the population by 2020.”

But whether those trends continue may well depend on how many more food and beverage companies decide to listen to their customers and make a serious effort to get this disease-linked laboratory sweetener being falsely represented as “sugar” out of our food supply.