The ‘secret formula’ for high fructose corn syrup that really lives up to the name

Posted by
April 3, 2012

Of all the things you hear about high fructose corn syrup, especially from the Corn Refiners Association (CRA), there’s a little something with a whole lot of fructose that doesn’t get much attention.

The CRA has spent big bucks on a campaign to try and convince us that high fructose corn syrup is the “same as sugar” since it contains either 42 or 55 percent fructose (called HFCS 42 and HFCS 55). Natural sugar, or sucrose, is comprised of 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose.

The main mantra from the CRA,  the one behind its attempt to have the high fructose corn syrup name on food products “officially” changed to “corn sugar,” is that HFCS really isn’t high in fructose after all, and naming it that when it was introduced back in the late 1960s was a really dumb idea they hope to correct in order to clear up consumer “confusion.”

But there’s another formulation, one that never enters into the picture being presented to consumers. It’s called HFCS 90, and it’s a high fructose corn syrup formulation that’s 90 percent fructose.

HFCS 90 isn’t new; it was developed in the 1970s, and you won’t read too much about it unless you know where to look. One of the most interesting references to HFCS 90 comes from a leading manufacturer of this unnatural, laboratory-created sweetener, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), which has a page on its corporate website about its trademarked version of the product called Cornsweet 90.®

“Cornsweet 90 ®,” it says, “containing about 90% fructose, is ADM’s sweetest high fructose corn syrup. Its high sweetness makes it the ideal choice for reduced calorie foods such as beverages, jellies and dressings.”

From my research, it’s quite apparent that both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration know about HFCS 90 and its food uses. Numerous studies, patents (including a method  for using HFCS 90 to produce a reduced-calorie beverage that was assigned to PepsiCo) and journal articles mention HFCS 90, and all the different foods that can be sweetened with it. So why don’t we consumers ever hear about it?

Fructose amounts a ‘proprietary’ matter

In 2010, Dr. Micheal Goran, director of the Childhood Obesity Research Center and professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California, found that the fructose content of some HFCS-sweetened beverages he had analyzed came in as high as 65 percent fructose, almost 20 percent higher than if they were in fact made only with HFCS 55.

So what exactly is the fructose content of foods containing HFCS? Is it 42 percent, 55 percent, 65 percent, 90 percent,or somewhere in between? And what about those low-calorie and diet foods that ADM says its Cornsweet 90 ®  is “ideal” for?

In attempting to get an answer to that question, I contacted the manufacturer of some “lite” pancake syrup I found at the supermarket that listed HFCS among its ingredients.   But aside from being thanked for my “loyalty” to the brand, I was told that anything related to its HFCS content is “proprietary information.” So short of a paying for a laboratory study, it appears there is no easy way for a consumer to find out how much fructose a product made with HFCS really contains.

“The only information we have,” Dr. Goran told me when I spoke with him this past November about his 2010 study, “is that industry says that sodas and beverages are made with HFCS 55, which suggests that 55 percent is fructose. That’s an assumption that everybody makes. 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,” he said.

But with HFCS 90 out there and possibly being used in an unknown number of products, it looks like there could be a lot more than soda to be concerned about.

Even if you’ve cut soft drinks and similar HFCS-sweetened items out of your diet, it’s quite possible you could still be getting a “high fructose” jolt by consuming low-calorie and “reduced sugar” foods that contain this ‘secret formula’.

It certainly does seem to make the name “high frucutose corn syrup” sound more appropriate than ever.

Help stop the corn sugar hoax. Take a moment and click here to send your comments to the FDA over the 2010 CRA petition to try and change the name of HFCS to “corn sugar.” Tell the FDA to reject this attempt to conceal HFCS on food labels once and for all!