Posted by Linda Bonvie
October 30, 2014
But what do we mean by “sugar,” exactly?
On that point, there currently seems to be a great deal of confusion. That’s why we’d like to address a form of Food Identity Theft that has become so prevalent that it can now be found just about everywhere you look, from “expert” dissertations on nutrition to newspaper editorials to blogs from respected institutions — even to comedy routines on cable TV.
It’s Sugar Identity Theft.
Now, sugar – that is to say, actual sugar — is something you might or might not want to limit in your diet, based on its caloric content or other considerations. Or perhaps you prefer to use a minimally processed form, like turbinado, or raw sugar, which contains measurable amounts of such vital nutrients as potassium, calcium, phosphorous and magnesium.
Whatever the case, when we talk about “sugar,” we’re referring to sucrose, a plant-derived, caloric (or nutritive) sweetener that’s been used for many, many years and that consists of 50 percent glucose and 50 percent fructose, chemically bound together.
But what sugar isn’t – and never has been – is a cheaper laboratory concoction known as high fructose corn syrup, or HFCS, that came into widespread use in the food supply relatively recently, and contains greater amounts of fructose in a form that’s not bound together with glucose – in some cases, considerably more. Such free-floating fructose has been found to be metabolized quite differently than the half-fructose, half-glucose combo of which sucrose (or sugar) is comprised, and to cause potential damage to the body in ways that sugar doesn’t.
What’s more, the fact that HFCS and sugar are two distinctly different things has even been acknowledged by the Food and Drug Administration in its refusal to allow HFCS to be officially renamed “corn sugar” back in 2012.
‘Sugars’ doesn’t mean ‘sugar’
Yet, just about everywhere you look these days, HFCS has somehow managed to became misrepresented as “sugar”– from the way it’s often depicted, using teaspoons or even containers of sugar, to the pervasive use of terms like “sugary” or “sugar-sweetened beverages” to describe soft drinks that contain not a tad of actual sugar, but a whole lot of high fructose corn syrup.
To a large degree, such misappropriation of sugar’s long-established name is the result of an FDA policy of referring to all caloric sweetening agents as “sugars,” a term that understandably confuses a lot of people into thinking it means the same thing as “sugar” (as in sucrose), which it most decidedly doesn’t. It also reflects a continued attempt by the Corn Refiners Association to blur the lines between the two and make it appear there’s really no difference, now that so many consumers are rejecting products with HFCS.
But the result has been to create an impression that “sugar” use has dramatically increased, when it hasn’t, and that “sugar” is the culprit in the current epidemics of obesity and diabetes, when, in fact, a number of recent studies have linked these emerging health problems to the presence of HFCS in so many of the foods and beverages now found in supermarkets and restaurants.
It has even been suggested (as it was on a recent comedy routine on cable TV) that the “sugar industry” is somehow responsible for the huge amounts of high fructose corn syrup that have come to replace sugar in most soft drinks and many other products, when the actual purveyor of all that HFCS is the corn refining industry.
But the confusion doesn’t stop there. In many instances, HFCS is still being referred to as “corn syrup,” a totally different sweetener that has been used for a much longer time, and that contains no fructose whatsoever (as we noted in a blog posted at this site back in February).
And now, the infringement on the identity of sugar has been carried a step further by an article from Cosmopolitan.com carried on the Yahoo news feed, which includes artificial sweeteners as one of “5 foods you should avoid.” While the advice is certainly sound, the graphic that accompanies it is totally misleading, as what it shows is not a packet of Equal (aspartame) or some other synthetic sweetener, but …sugar.
So, just to be clear, high fructose corn syrup isn’t a form of “sugar,” even though it may be categorized as “sugars” on the nutrition facts panel. Nor is it “corn syrup.” Nor should “sugar” be confused with artificial sweeteners,” with which a variety of health issues have been associated. And when you hear or see the term “sugary beverages,” it probably refers to drinks that contain no actual “sugar,” but are most likely sweetened with HFCS.
Once you’re clear on what is and isn’t “sugar,” it should be a lot easier to sort out what you may be consuming—and decided whether or not it’s something you want to include in your diet. For example, if the candy you’re giving out on Halloween (and will probably have left over) is plain chocolate, it will almost certainly contain only sugar, since HFCS doesn’t allow chocolate to hold its shape. And that goes for not only Halloween, but the entire holiday season, when the temptation to consume sweetened items is at its annual peak for most of us.
But all you have to do is look at the ingredients and remember that when you see high fructose corn syrup, that’s not sugar — no matter what you keep hearing and reading in the media.