Corn refiners launch preemptive attack on study suggesting HFCS-diabetes link

Posted by
December 6, 2012

How much fructose do these HFCS-sweetened drinks contain?

In the latest desperate attempt by the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) to salvage the image of its highly profitable additive high fructose corn syrup, the industry group broke a news embargo to lash out against the latest negative study on the widely used test-tube sweetener a day before its scheduled publication via a press release and statements highly critical of one of the study’s authors.

The study, co-authored by Dr. Michael Goran, professor of preventive medicine and director of the Childhood Obesity Research Center at the Keck School of Medicine at USC, found that countries consuming large amounts of HFCS have a 20 percent higher prevalence of diabetes than those where the corn-derived unnatural sweetener isn’t used (yes, there are still places in the world where you won’t find HFCS in your food).

“I don’t know how they got the paper,” Goran told Food Identity Theft, “I sent the paper out to several reporters who agreed to honor the embargo…somebody at the CRA was working very hard over Thanksgiving weekend to have it ready and circulated Monday morning,” Goran said, adding that the CRA’s actions probably ended up giving the study more publicity than expected when it was officially released on November 27th.

Calling Goran “a known detractor of HFCS,” and saying the study “crosses the line from science to advocacy” (a comment Goran feels “got a little personal”), Big Corn was obviously deeply concerned about this new research, which adds to the growing concern over the widespread consumption of HFCS.

The study, published in the journal Global Public Health, revealed that independent of total sugar intake and obesity levels, HFCS consumption is associated with the “significantly increased prevalence of diabetes.”

“It’s almost like an additional contributing factor that’s independent,” said Goran. “Some of the critique was that we just need to focus on obesity,” which, he noted, is not the “only cause” of diabetes. “We know that obesity and total sugars contribute to diabetes. What this shows is that over and above those, HFCS poses an additional risk.”

That “additional risk,” the study suggests, is most likely due to the higher amounts of fructose in HFCS, the most popular formulation of which contains 55 percent fructose, a 10 percent increase over sucrose (real sugar). Other studies done by Goran in 2010 have shown fructose amounts in some beverages to be as high as 65 percent.

How much is too much?

The question, in Goran’s view, is, “what is the tipping point? We know that fructose is more damaging than glucose; if anyone tried to argue with that, they just don’t understand biochemistry and nutrition. …(But) at what point do the damaging effects of fructose become apparent?”

Goran’s 2010 study, published in the journal Obesity, found several popular beverages are delivering a fructose jolt higher than the industry would like you to believe. Levels as high as 65 percent of super-sweet fructose were found in analyzed Coke, Pepsi and Sprite. The CRA in all of its messaging and multi-million dollar “sugar is sugar” campaign will only admit to the use of HFCS with a 55 percent fructose content in drinks.

Other research suggests that fructose levels can go even higher than what Goren found, with HFCS containing  up to 90 percent fructose used in certain products.

Foods containing varying and higher fructose amounts are the subject of a current citizen petition to the Food and Drug Administration by Citizens for Health. The petition requests that the agency take action against food and beverage manufactures using HFCS in amounts above 55 percent (the highest amount the FDA allows) and also, in the interim, provide consumers with label information declaring just how much fructose a HFCS blend contains. (You can read about the petition here, and sign it here).

The fact that HFCS comes in higher-than-55 percent-fructose formulations is not something the CRA really likes to talk about, but a look at the 2012 “Corn Annual,” which gives shipment totals for last year, has one listing for “high fructose corn syrup 55% and above,” (which, by the way, is 11,591,481,000 pounds – yes, that’s over 11 billion. Add HFCS 42 to the mix, and the total shipments of HFCS for 2011 amount to over a whopping 19 billion pounds!)

Goran, who is currently involved in an additional, larger study to measure fructose amount in HFCS-sweetened foods, feels the CRA is “just trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the consumer.”

“Saying they (HFCS and sugar) are almost identical is an oxymoron. They are either identical or they are not,” said Goran, adding, “I wasn’t surprised that they would criticize the study, but to have complete disregard for the media process tells you what they have at stake in this argument.”