It's been a hard couple of years for high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), the cheap sweetener made from corn that has replaced sugar in things like soda, ketchup, chocolate syrup and just about any processed food you can imagine. There was the classic interview/PR disaster with a rep from the Corn Refiner's Association in the movie King Corn. Watch the above video at 4:45 and hear her explain in the tone of a kindergarten teacher, "There is a lot of technology, quote-unquote, that goes into making corn sweetener." Its reputation for making people fat and generally wreaking havoc on public health has got soft drink makers tripping over themselves to offer drinks made from real sugar.
In response to a bad reputation for HFCS that keeps getting worse the Corn Refiner's Association is appealing to the US government to change the name on food labels from HFCS to "Corn Sugar." They've launched a big web site called sweetsurprise.com and are doing everything in their power to rebrand the sweetener.
Unfortunately the comparative research between sugar (sucrose) and HFCS is very limited. Is HFCS worse for you and your children than sucrose? From a scientific perspective the answer at this point is, We don't know. Here's the key excerpt from the American Medical Association report on HFCS from 2008;
Only a few small, short-term experimental studies have compared the effects of HFCS to sucrose, and most involved some form of industry support. Epidemiological studies on HFCS and health outcomes are unavailable, beyond ecological studies, because nutrient databases do not contain information on the HFCS content of foods and have only limited data on added sugars in general.
Conclusions: Because the composition of HFCS and sucrose are so similar, particularly on absorption by the body, it appears unlikely that HFCS contributes more to obesity or other conditions than sucrose. Nevertheless, few studies have evaluated the potentially differential effect of various sweeteners, particularly as they relate to health conditions such as obesity, which develop over relatively long periods of time. Improved nutrient databases are needed to analyze food consumption in epidemiological studies, as are more strongly designed experimental studies. At the present time, there is insufficient evidence to restrict use of HFCS or other fructose-containing sweeteners in the food supply or to require the use of warning labels on products containing HFCS.
And here's the key recommendation;
That our AMA, in concert with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, recommend that consumers limit the amount of added caloric sweeteners in their diet.
The problem I have the the manufacturers of HFCS is that they are promoting increased consumption of a product that is not good for public health. Cheap processed sugar in any form is not healthful. It may turn out to be no worse than sugar, but we can say for sure that it's not better.
Here's the key chart in the whole debate about HFCS. It shows the rate of obesity in the United States since 1960. Guess what year HFCS was introduced into the US food supply.
Here's my recommended response to the HFCS industry; "There are a lot of decisions, quote-unquote, that go into being a consumer, and limiting my intake of HFCS is one of them even if you call it corn sugar."