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A New Name for High-Fructose Corn Syrup

The Corn Refiners Association, which represents firms that make the syrup, has been trying to improve the image of the much maligned sweetener with ad campaigns promoting it as a natural ingredient made from corn. Now, the group has petitioned the United States Food and Drug Administration to start calling the ingredient "corn sugar," arguing that a name change is the only way to clear up consumer confusion about the product.

"Clearly the name is confusing consumers," said Audrae Erickson, president of the Washington-based group, in an interview.

"I'm not eager to help the corn refiners sell more of their stuff," Dr. Nestle wrote in an e-mail. "But you have to feel sorry for them. High-fructose corn syrup is the new trans fat. Everyone thinks it's poison, and food companies are getting rid of it as fast as they can."

Although food label changes aren't common, the F.D.A. has allowed name changes in the past. The ingredient first called "low erucic acid rapeseed oil" was changed to "canola oil" in the 1980s. More recently, the F.D.A. allowed prunes to be called "dried plums."

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36 Responses:

  1. blowtar says:

    Maybe because it IS poison. And food companies aren't getting rid of it, walk through safeway and look at random labels. Almost all of them will have it listed in the ingredients. They're just trying to dodge the (fully justified) negative press.

  2. "A name change is the only way to clear up consumer confusion."

    I hope they raise my chocolate ration to 20 grams a week, too.

  3. zarex says:

    This is really to be expected. Nestle is right - HFCS has gotten a lot of unfair press, and it's only appropriate for the industry to try to counter this.

    HFCS is no worse than table sugar, but for some reason people think it's poison.

    Of course, people are stupid enough to still gorge themselves with sugar while avoiding HFCS, and pretend they're being healthy.

    • carbonunit says:

      Is that actually true? I'm an Australian, we grow sugar cane here, there isn't much corn, so things are usually sweetened with sucrose. I've watched the HFCS hoopla from a distance, wondering what all the fuss is about, since fructose is common in most sweet fruits and berries and even honey. I've always assumed there were trace elements of something else in there to account for all the biological side effects.

      • zarex says:

        It's true, at least in the US. For some reason people consider HFCS as being deadly, while regular sugar is just fine. Really dumb.

        A few bad studies/press hype pieces (Princeton) added to this nonsense.

      • blaisepascal says:

        Corn is mainly a starch crop, and starch is a glucose polymer. When corn starch is converted to corn syrup, it's almost 100% glucose, with almost no fructose.

        There's a chemical reaction that can be employed at industrial scales to convert glucose to fructose (the two are isomers of each other, but not chemically identical). High Fructose Corn Syrup is made by mixing corn syrup (almost 100% glucose) with fructose converted from corn syrup. Typical commercial HFCS is 55% fructose, 45% glucose (called HFCS55, other mixes are also available).

        Fructose is sweeter than glucose or sucrose, so much less HFCS is needed to sweeten a product than corn syrup, and less HFCS is needed than sucrose (but not as much less).

        Sucrose is a molecule formed by combining one molecule of glucose with one molecule of fructose. Under many common conditions (heat, acid, certain digestive enzymes) it breaks into glucose and fructose in equal amounts. The body cannot absorb sucrose directly; it must be broken down into glucose/fructose first. It's been shown [citation needed] that even in short time frames (like 2 weeks) most of the sucrose in a can of cola will break down into effectively HFCS50 in the can.

        No real evidence has been shown of a difference in metabolism of HFCS50 v. sucrose. The only potentially plausible method of action for any differences in metabolism is the idea that HFCS50 doesn't require digestion before absorption, so the sugar hits you as a spike rather than over time. But sucrose is broken down quickly.

        There are studies which compare dietary intake of pure fructose with dietary intake of pure glucose or of sucrose which do seem to show that pure fructose is a bad dietary choice (at least, if you're a rat or mouse, of course), but the bad effects don't show up when fructose and glucose are both in the diet.

        Honey is approximately equivalent (in sugar content) to HFCS55, Agave syrup to somewhere between HFCS56 and HFCS92, depending on the source you read. Maple syrup is mostly sucrose.

        HFCS is king in the US because of two lobbying efforts by two different agricultural industries. The relatively small US Sugar industry asked for tariffs to drive up the price of imported sugar so that they could make a profit. They got the tariffs. The relatively humongous corn industry asked for subsidies so that they could make a profit. They got their subsidies. As such, HFCS42 costs US$0.26/lb in the wholesale market, and refined beet sugar in the same markets costs US$0.59/lb.

        But the main reason why HFCS is villified is because it's not "natural".

        • carbonunit says:

          Thanks very much for the educating reply. I'm especially fascinated to discover that sucrose is really a compound of fructose and glucose, and that it essentially turns into something like HFCS first thing once it's ingested. That really puts down the argument that there is something intrinsically bad about HFCS, apart from the volume and ubiquity with which it is used. Agave syrup has started turning up in health food shops here, funny to discover it's even higher in fructose than HFCS or sugar!

          Another interesting data is that Australians are slightly more obese than Americans, despite having very little HFCS in our diet. I'm starting to think that the real source of the problems ascribed to HFCS is packaged food in general, which is pumped full of sweeteners to make it more palatable and easier to process and store. It's like smokers worrying about asbestos in cigarette filters!

        • terpsichoros says:

          Back when I was brewing my own beer, the books said that glucose was sometimes called "corn sugar". Which makes sense, given your explanation. Thank you.

          • youngwilliam says:

            That's one of my primary gripes about this "Let's just call it corn sugar" notion; corn sugar already exists as a thing! A powdered confectioner's sugar looking thing!

            My uncle uses it with brewing, and I've considered seeing what happens if I use it in making kombucha.

      • zanfur says:

        Other way around -- there are things in *fruit* that counter the negative effects of fructose. Specifically, lots and lots of fiber. The damage from fructose (from pretty much any source) is that it overloads your liver when you get a lot at once, rather a lot like alcohol, going through very similar metabolic pathways. Erythritol and Xylitol have similar issues, except that they are both absorbed into your bloodstream much more slowly, so it doesn't cause the same overload effect. Fructose, however, is absorbed very quickly. Fiber slows down the process.

        I almost agree with zarex. HFCS has gotten a ton of unfair press, but it is slightly worse than table sugar, for two reasons: 1. it has a higher fructose/glucose ratio (usually 60/40) than cane sugar (which is 50/50), and 2. it's already separated into glucose and fructose, as opposed to sugar which is commonly still in sucrose form. It's *almost* as bad as HFCS, though.

        • carbonunit says:

          Fair enough. Plus fruit doesn't contain nearly as much sugar concentration as prepared sweetened foods. And dietary fibre has a host of other health benefits that offset the impact of sugar spikes and high blood glucose.

          • badc0ffee says:

            And the fiber in fruit helps you feel full, which is why you'd want to eat 1 whole apple, but would happily drink 6 apples worth of juice.

      • kensey says:

        It's less that there's any meaningful physical difference between HFCS and cane sugar, and more the economics leading to HFCS being easy and cheap to put in everything, leading to more sugar-related health issues because the stuff is damn near impossible to avoid.

        • carbonunit says:

          I don't think our sugar industry is subsidised at all, but they wouldn't need to, because the cost of transport to import it would defeat the purpose. We do produce a lot of cane sugar, and have a slightly higher obesity problem than the US, so I think you're right, it's not the kind of sugar but the total amount of sweet packaged food you consume.

        • terpsichoros says:

          U.S. tariffs/quotas on imported sugar are what drives food processors to use HFCS. (ADM probably pays congresscritters to keep it that way.) Countries like Australia, which produce more cane sugar than they can consume, or countries with sane economic policies (not sure I can name examples), which allow essentially unrestricted import of sugar, don't go for HFCS.

        • badc0ffee says:

          What exactly do you mean by sugar-related health issues?

          • kensey says:

            As noted, diabeetus, but the prevalence of HFCS means that without religiously reading food labels it's impossible to know which foods are going to suddenly drop hundreds of completely empty calories on you -- thus although HFCS itself probably does not "cause" obesity and the problems stemming from it, the massive prevalence of HFCS is almost definitely linked to these things.

    • I mostly don't like the way it makes things taste like shit.

      • zarex says:

        Sure, that's a fine reason for eating sugar, though I suspect a lot of people who say this can't really tell the difference.

        • It's very obvious in U.S. soft drinks.

          I usually don't have to cut down on my intake of such things due to headaches, either. I guess my body's just not used to metabolising sugars that quickly.

        • spider88 says:

          The difference is pretty intense. I can taste the difference in soups and sauces, not just sodas where the sweetener is the primary ingredient.

        • carbonunit says:

          I can to a certain extent. I've noticed a slight difference in taste of Coke in the US and Australia, and a major difference in Indonesia where they actually use palm sugar!

    • spider88 says:

      Yeah, you might want to look at some scientific evidence on that.



    • unwoman says:

      HFCS may not be worse than sugar unless you're one of about 1/3 of people (!) who suffer from fructose malabsorption and have no idea what's causing their diarrhea, depression, headaches, and sugar cravings. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fructose_malabsorption

      Seriously, almost no one I've ever talked to has ever heard of this and it's ridiculously common. I have it, really obviously, and I shudder to think how much smarter I'd be if I hadn't eaten so many apples in high school (they made me fall asleep in class.) Table sugar is fine, but HFCS, apples, and pears are verboten.

  4. nathanw says:

    The phase "corn sugar" is already in use, referring to dextrose, also known as glucose. I predict a lot of confusion.

    • zanfur says:

      I was about to say something similar. HFCS isn't "corn sugar" any more than maple syrup is "maple sugar". The sugars derived from corn are xylitol (technically a sugar alcohol) and D-glucose, commonly known as dextrose, the basic unit of energy currency in animals. To get the fructose in there involves an enzymatic process to convert a bunch of the glucose to fructose.

  5. bifrosty2k says:

    I am waiting for porn sugar.

  6. cetan says:

    Applying Def Leppard reference in 3...2...1...