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Is high-fructose corn syrup really worse than sugar?

By Michelle Edelbaum, January 15, 2010 - 1:27pm

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Is high-fructose corn syrup really worse than sugar?

Is sugar just sugar, even if it's high-fructose corn syrup? I thought the answer was no, that high-fructose corn syrup is worse than regular sugar or honey or even plain corn syrup and I should avoid it. And let's not even get into sugar substitutes.

But last night I was watching TV and saw a commercial from the Corn Refiners Association saying that high-fructose corn syrup is no worse for me than regular sugar. (See the commercials for yourself at sweetsurprise.com.) Could it be true?

I asked one of EatingWell's nutrition experts to help me sort out fact from hype. We recently wrote about high-fructose corn syrup, and it generated an overwhelming, and impassioned, response from our readers.

Author Joyce Hendley's piece helped me get my facts right and hopefully will help you sort out fact from fiction. I've included the report here so you can see the facts for yourself:

• High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a manmade sweetener that's found in a wide range of processed foods, from ketchup and cereals to crackers and salad dressings. It also sweetens just about all of the (regular) soda Americans drink. HFCS used in foods is between 50 to 55 percent fructose-so chemically, it's virtually identical to table sugar (sucrose), which is 50 percent fructose. Metabolic studies suggest our bodies break down and use HFCS and sucrose the same way.

• Yet, after HFCS began to be widely introduced into the food supply 30-odd years ago, obesity rates skyrocketed. And because the sweetener is so ubiquitous, many blame HFCS for playing a major role in our national obesity epidemic. As a result, some shoppers equate HFCS with "toxic waste" when they see it on a food label. But when it comes right down to it, a sugar is a sugar is a sugar. A can of soda contains around nine teaspoons of sugar in the form of HFCS-but, from a biochemical standpoint, drinking that soda is no worse for you than sipping home-brewed iced tea that you've doctored with nine teaspoons of table sugar. But what is soda doing to your bones? Click here to find out.

• Even Barry Popkin, Ph.D., a nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who previously suggested, in an influential 2004 paper, a possible HFCS-obesity link, stresses that the real obesity problem doesn't lie just with HFCS. Rather, it's the fact that sugars from all sources have become so prevalent in our food supply, especially in our beverages. He scoffs at the "natural" sweeteners sometimes added to upscale processed foods like organic crackers and salad dressings. "They all have the same caloric effects as sugar," he explains. "I don't care whether something contains concentrated fruit juice, brown sugar, honey or HFCS. The only better sweetener option is 'none of the above.'" Can honey help you lose weight, improve your allergies or help your cough? Find out.

At EatingWell, it's our philosophy to keep any sweeteners we use in our recipes to a minimum-and likewise, to limit processed foods with added sugars of any type, including HFCS. We recommend you do the same.

Do you avoid high fructose corn syrup more than sugar? Tell us what you think below.

TAGS: Michelle Edelbaum, Health Blog

Michelle Edelbaum
Michelle is the digital editor for EatingWell Media Group. She puts her background in journalism to work online at EatingWell.com and in EatingWell Magazine, authoring the Good Questions interview with interesting people in the world of food and health.

Michelle asks: Do you avoid high fructose corn syrup more than sugar?

Tell us what you think:

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