So how much fructose does HFCS contain? More than you thought, one study claims

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November 8, 2011

The multi-million-dollar message from the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) says that  “Contrary to its name, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is not high in fructose,” which is why, they say, it needs a name change. But what does that actually mean?

Ask the corn refiners, and they probably will tell you how “similar” it is to cane or beet sugar, and that “…high fructose corn syrup has either 42% or 55% fructose.” But it’s not exactly that simple, or quite possibly even correct.

Enter Dr. Michael Goran, director of the Childhood Obesity Research Center (CORC) and professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California. It should come as no surprise that Dr. Goran and his team at the CORC are interested in obesity and diabetes, and also “especially the effects of fructose.”

“The problem is,” Dr. Goran told me in an interview last week, “we don’t know how much fructose people are consuming because it’s just not in any of the nutrition databases. All the (nutrition) labels say is just ‘sugar’…and sugar is a very broad term.

“The only information we have is that industry says sodas and beverages are made with HFCS 55, which suggests that 55 percent of the sugar is fructose. That’s an assumption that everybody makes,” he said. “So we decided we wanted to actually verify, measure the fructose content so we could get a better handle on how much fructose people were actually consuming every time they open a can of soda. We purchased the most popular drinks and we sent them off to an independent laboratory for analysis.”

The results of that analysis, published this past April in the journal Obesity, actually came as a “surprise” to Dr. Goran. Part of what the study found is that the HFCS used in several popular beverages are delivering a fructose ‘jolt’ much higher than commonly believed. Levels as high as 65 percent of the super-sweet fructose were found in the analyzed Coke, Pepsi and Sprite.

This is news, big news. The CRA, after all, has spent around 50-million dollars to convince the public that “sugar is sugar,” and that HFCS is just like cane or beet sugar, which is 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose.  Since, according to Dr. Goran, no one had ever done such a study before, I expected to find articles galore in response to it questioning the veracity of these “facts” from the CRA.

“It got a little bit of press, “ Dr. Goran noted. But he added, “it got a lot of attacks from the food and beverage industry who didn’t like the study and said it was flawed.”

One of the mentions Goran’s study received was from author and popular blogger Marion Nestle.

“I’ve been saying for ages that the sugar composition of HFCS is no different from that of table sugar…Oops,” she wrote in an October, 2010 blog at Food Politics, adding  “This study, if confirmed, means that this supposition may need some rethinking.”

“When she saw our paper she immediately blogged that this was a game changer,” said Goran. “Then she changed her blog, and she even got back to me and said I’ve done a bit of a U-turn with this. She took a much more middle-of-the-road stance. I thought, that’s weird.”

Another mention of Goran’s study came last October from The Public Health Advocacy Institute staff attorney Cara Wilking, who raised the possibility that the extra-high fructose levels in the soft drinks the study identified could constitute false and misleading food labeling, food adulteration and false and misleading advertising, being that HFCS is approved for a ratio of no more than 55 percent fructose for use in the food supply by the FDA.

Goran, who is currently conducting an expanded follow-up study (which will include infant formulas that contain HFCS), is not sold on the CRA’s concept that “sugar is sugar.”

“That’s what’s flawed,” he said. “What’s amazing to me is there are some very well-informed nutrition scientists who are saying ‘sugar is sugar’, I don’t understand that.”

Oh, and one other thing – according to Dr. Goran, the CRA proposed name change to “corn sugar” is flawed as well.

“One of my scientific mantras is to call it what it is,” he noted, and HFCS is a sweetener made from corn starch.”


Be sure to give the FDA your opinion on this HFCS name game by clicking here.