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High Fructose Corn Syrup: Tasty Toxin or Slandered Sweetener?

The perils of fructose:

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has, over the past few decades, gradually displaced cane and beet sugar as the sweetener of choice for soft drinks, candy and prepared foods. In recent years, there have been a growing number claims that HFCS is a significant health risk to consumers, responsible for obesity, diabetes, heart disease and a wide variety of other illnesses. 

In fact, there are large amounts of experimental data supporting the claims that high levels of fructose in the diet can cause hyperlipidemia (high levels of fats — triglycerides primarily — in the blood), obesity and insulin resistance and may lead to cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes (for a good recent review, see [1]). A high-fructose diet is thought to cause hyperlipidemia (and probably visceral obesity) because fructose is preferentially “sent”  to fatty acid synthesis and it also reduces the activity of lipoprotein lipase (for a good review, see [2]). The mechanisms by which fructose causes insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease are less clear (see, for example [3], [4] and [5]), but there is no shortage of hypotheses. Despite the fact that some of the underlying mechanisms are not clear, the evidence seems pretty solid that there are real risks to high fructose consumption.

However, the question remains — is HFCS more of a health risk than other sweeteners? Many of the sources that demonize HFCS list alternative sweeteners — cane sugar, honey, agave syrup, etc. — that they claim are healthier than HFCS, but those claims usually rest primarily on the fact that these alternatives to HFCS are “natural” rather than any actual data showing that they are safer than HFCS. 

Sugar 101:

Before we can properly analyze these claims, we need to understand a bit about sugar. To begin with, what is sugar? To most people, sugar is the white granulated solid that they find in the sugar bowl. In reality, sugar is a much broader term. There are two general classes of sugars — aldose and ketose — and over twenty individual sugars (monosaccharides), if you limit yourself to only those found in nature. Of these, only a few play any significant role in human nutrition, primarily glucose, fructose and galactose (ribose, a sugar that forms the backbone of DNA and RNA, also plays a minor nutritional role). 

Further complicating the issue, there are also sugars — disaccharides — that are compounds made of two monosaccharides covalently bound together. The most common of these is sucrose, a compound made by joining one molecule of glucose to one molecule of  fructose. Sucrose is the sugar in the average sugar bowl. It is also the sugar in brown sugar, molasses, cane sugar, beet sugar and is the major component of maple syrup (and maple sugar). Another common disaccharide is lactose (milk sugar), which is a combination of glucose and galactose. Less commonly encountered is maltose, a combination of two molecules of glucose. 

Starches, such as corn starch, are also sugar. They are made up of long interlinked chains (polymers, also known as polysaccharides) of individual sugars (usually glucose). Cellulose, the major component of paper and wood, is also a polymer of glucose (with different bond geometries). Insect and crustacean shells are made of a sugar polymer known as chitin (also a major component of fungal cell walls). We literally live in a world of sugar. 

One final note about sugars — humans only absorb monosaccharides; no matter what form the sugar enters the digestive tract, it is only absorbed after it is broken down to its component monosaccharides (there are, as usual in biology, a few minor exceptions to this rule). There are a variety of enzymes — amylases, disaccharidases, etc. — that perform this function. Any disaccharide or polysaccharide that isn’t broken down (such as the raffinose and stachyose in beans and many other gas-causing foods) remains inside the gut, providing food for our gut bacteria.

“Natural” Sweeteners:

Now, let’s take a look at some of the sugar-based sweeteners in common use today. Honey was probably the first sweetener — at least in the part of the world where honey bees are native. Honey is about 82% sugar, with almost all the remainder being water. The sugar in honey is 43% glucose,  50% fructose, 4% galactose, 2% maltose, 1% sucrose and trace amounts of other sugars [6]. As mentioned earlier, it is considered by many to be a natural sweetener that is a healthy alternative to HFCS. 

Another sweetener used in ancient times — especially in regions where honey bees were not native — is tree sap. The most famous of these is the sap of sugar maple trees, used to make maple syrup and, when crystallized, maple sugar. Natural maple syrup is 60% sugar, with that sugar being 95% sucrose, 4% glucose and 1% fructose [6]

Fruit juices also have an ancient history of use as sweetening agents and — not surprisingly — are often cited as natural and healthy alternatives to HFCS. The sugar content of fruits varies with the type of fruit and even with the variety. Apples, for instance, are a bit over 10% sugar by weight, with that sugar being 57% fructose, 23% glucose and 20% sucrose. Peaches, in contrast, are 8.4% sugar by weight with that sugar being 57% sucrose, 23% glucose and 18% fructose. Pears – the most common fruit juice used in sweetening - are 9.8% sugar, with that sugar being 64% fructose, 28% glucose and 8% sucrose. Table grapes are about 15% sugar, with the sugars being 53% fructose and 47% glucose [6]

Sucrose, the disaccharide in common table sugar, was originally obtained in ralatively pure form from sugar cane, which can only grow in the tropics. The high cost of cane suger led to a search for alternative sources. As early as the 1700’s, sucrose was being extracted from sugar beets, but it took both selective breeding of sugar beets to increase their sucrose content and improvements in the extraction process to make beet sugar economically viable. By the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, sucrose from sugar beets had outstripped cane sugar in Europe and the U.S. Sugar beets have the advantage of growing throughout the temperate zone, closer to the demand. Just to be clear, beet sugar and case sugar are indistinguishable — they are exactly the same chemical compound (sucrose).

The rise of HFCS:

So, with all of these sugar-based sweeteners available, what prompted the development of HFCS?

Corn syrup is a relatively recent arrival as a sweetener; it had to wait until food processors discovered how to take corn starch (which, like most starches, is a polymer composed of long interlinked chains of glucose molecules) and break it down into isolated glucose molecules using the enzymes amylase and maltase. Commercial amounts of corn syrup were available by the middle of the 20th century [7]. Corn syrup was so much cheaper than sucrose that it saw extensive use as a sucrose substitute for thickening foods and to help retain moisture. It wasn’t much used solely as a sweetener because it isn’t as sweet as sucrose.

The fact is that not all sugars are equally sweet. If we assign sucrose (table sugar) a sweetness of 100%, glucose has a sweetness of 60 – 75% (on a gram-per-gram basis) and fructose has a sweetness of 140 – 170% [8][9][10]. (Note: the sweetness of fructose varies with its conformation, and so will differ under different circumstances [11]) Candy and soft drink manufacturers exploited the greater sweetness of fructose even before HFCS was available by using what is called “invert sugar”. Invert sugar is sucrose that has been treated with a weak acid solution and then recrystallized (to get rid of the acid). This treatment causes a portion of the sucrose to break apart into fructose and glucose. Although the glucose part is less sweet than sucrose, the fructose is so much sweeter that the overall effect is to get more sweetness with less sugar. This allowed the manufacturers to use less sugar and thereby save money, even though invert sugar was more expensive than plain sucrose.

In 1957, a process was developed to convert some of the glucose in corn syrup to fructose, yielding a product that was 42% fructose and 58% glucose [12]. This dramatically increased its sweetness, making a product that was a commercially viable competitor to sucrose as a sweetener. This was HFCS 42, which has a sweetness — gram-per-gram — slightly greater than sucrose (110%).

The primary advantage of HFCS 42 to food manufacturers was its low cost — much lower than the cost of sucrose. Secondary advantages were that it retained moisture better than sucrose (twice as many molecules), was slightly sweeter than sucrose (so less was needed), was in a liquid form and didn’t caramelize as readily as sucrose (this last one could be an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on the use).

Later, HFCS manufacturers began putting some of their HFCS 42 through separation columns to produce syrup that was 90% fructose (HFCS 90) [5]. Today, the bulk of the HFCS 90 production is used to make corn syrup with 55% fructose, known as HFCS 55, although a very small amount is used in some reduced-calorie confections (HFCS 90 is about 60% sweeter per gram than sucrose, which allows a 35% reduction in the amount of sugar used). 

With the introduction of HFCS 55, which is 25% sweeter than sucrose, food manufacturers found that the slightly increased price (which was still less than sucrose) was more than offset by the fact that they needed less of it to get the same level of sweetness. 

That’s right, HFCS allowed food manufacturers to use less sugar — and thus fewer sugar calories — in their products without compromising sweetness. Using sucrose — cane or beet sugar — would require 20% more sugar (and 20% more sugar calories) than using HFCS 55. 

How safe are other sweeteners compared to HFCS?:

Still, none of this alters the fact that a diet high in fructose has been shown to cause — or at least contribute to — hyperlipidemia, obesity, insulin resistance and cardiac disease. However, those who have been paying attention will have noticed that HFCS is not the ONLY sweetener that contains significant amounts of  fructose.

In fact, sucrose — even “natural” cane sugar — is 50% fructose once it is digested and absorbed. While this is 20% less than the fructose content of HFCS 55, food manufacturers need to use less (about 20% less) HFCS 55 to get the same sweetness, so it’s a wash as far as fructose content.

Honey, long touted as a “healthy” and “natural” alternative to evil HFCS, is also 50% fructose. Agave syrup (also called agave nectar), often promoted as a healthy alternative to HFCS (especially in diabetics),  is very high in fructose, although there is some disagreement over how much fructose it contains. According to the USDA, the sugar in cooked agave is 87% fructose (due to breakdown of fructans — a starch-like polymer of fructose — in the plant when it is cooked) [6]. A wholesale supplier of agave syrup, however, lists the fructose as 70 — 75% of the total sugar in their syrup [13]. Either way, agave syrup is higher in fructose than any other natural sweetener (and any form of HFCS except HFCS 90). 

Even fruit juices (and what could be more natural and healthy than fruit juice?) are 40 — 70% fructose, if you count the fructose in sucrose. And for those who argue that ingesting sucrose delays the absorption of fructose, Monsivais et al (2007) showed that sucrose breaks down spontaneously in carbonated beverages (and, presumably, all acid solutions), with 50% of the sucrose being hydrolyzed to fructose and glucose within the first 30 days after bottling [14].

Finally, a study that directly compared the short-term effects of fructose, HFCS and sucrose showed that they are indistinguishable [15]

What does all this mean?:

So, what are the take-home messages from all of this? 

  1. HFCS 42 and HFCS 55 have essentially the same amount of fructose, as a fraction of their total sugar, as honey, sucrose (cane or beet sugar) or maple syrup/sugar (to be agonizingly precise, HFCS has slightly less, and HCFS 55 has slightly more).
  2. HFCS 42 and HFCS 55 have an equal or smaller amount of fructose, as a fraction of their total sugar, as many commonly consumed fruits.
  3. Agave syrup has higher fructose content than any type of HFCS except HFCS 90. 

For people who are worried about their health or their children’s health — and who isn’t, these days — the data suggest that the best choice is to reduce intake of all sweeteners containing fructose. That includes not only the evil HFCS, but also natural cane sugar, molasses (which is just impure cane sugar), brown sugar (ditto) and honey. Even “unsweetened” (no added sugar) fruit juices need to be considered when limiting your family’s fructose intake. 

Finally, the best nutritional advice is to eat everything in moderation — and that includes sweets. While a diet high in fructose may increase your risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease — maybe — a fructose-free diet is not guaranteed to prevent those diseases. Eat a variety of foods, including a small amount of sweets, get enough exercise, watch your (and your children’s) weight and see your doctor for regular health check-ups. 

And stop worrying that HFCS is poisoning you and your children. 

Until later,

Jim Laidler

 Jim Laidler, MD graduated from USC School of Medicine and went on to do an internship in Pediatrics before spending four years as a flight surgeon in the US Army. After his military service, he completed a residency in Anesthesiology and a fellowship in Pain Medicine at the University of Illinois. He practiced for several years in Alaska and Oregon before deciding to take up a new career in research. He is currently finishing his PhD thesis in Molecular Biology in Portland, Oregon.

 

DISCLAIMER:  The opinions expressed by Dr. Laidler are his own and not those of any organization or institution he is affiliated with. His writings are not meant to diagnose or treat any diseases or disorders except ignorance and misinformation.

References

  1. Stanhope KL and Havel PJ. Fructose consumption: recent results and their potential implications. Ann. NY Acad. Sci. 2010 Mar;1190(1):15-24.
  2. Chong MF, Fielding BA and Frayn KN. Mechanisms for the acute effect of fructose on postprandial lipemia. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2007 Jun;85(6):1511-20.
  3. Li P, et al. A high-fructose diet impairs Akt and PKCzeta phosphorylation and GLUT4 translocation in rat skeletal muscle. Horm. Metab. Res. 2008 Aug;40(8):528-32.
  4. Kebede M, et al. Fructose-1,6-bisphosphatase overexpression in pancreatic beta-cells results in reduced insulin secretion: a new mechanism for fat-induced impairment of beta-cell function. Diabetes. 2008 Jul;57(7):1887-95.
  5. Mellor KM, et al. Elevated dietary sugar and the heart: experimental models and myocardial remodeling. Can. J. Physiol. Pharmacol. 2010 May;88(5):525-40.
  6. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2009. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 22. Nutrient Data Laboratory Home Page, http://www.ars.usda.gov/ba/bhnrc/ndl.  accessed 29 July 2010
  7. Alexander R.J. Maltodextrins: production, properties and applications. In: Starch Hydrolysis Products; Worldwide Technology, Production, and Applications (F.W. Schenck and R.E. Hebeda, eds.) 1992, pp.233-276. VCH Publishers, New York.
  8. Schiffman SS et al. Synergism among Ternary Mixtures of Fourteen Sweeteners. Chem. Senses. April 2000; 25(2):131-140 
  9. Hanover LM, White JS. Manufacturing, composition and applications of fructose. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. Nov. 1993; 58(5): 724S-732S
  10. Davis EA. Functionality of sugars: physicochemical interactions in foods. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 1995; 62(1):170S-177S
  11. Shallenberger RS. Intrinsic chemistry of fructose. Pure & Appl. Chem. 1978; 50(11-12):1409-1420
  12. Marshall RO, Kooi ER, Moffett GM. Enzymatic conversion of D-glucose to D-fructose. Science 5 April 1957; 125(3249):648-649.
  13. The Colibree Company, Inc. website. accessed 23 July 2010. http://agavesyrup.net/product.html
  14. Monsivais P et al. Sugars and satiety: does the type of sweetener make a difference? Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2007; 86(1):116-123 
  15. Stanhope, KL et al. Twenty-four-hour endocrine and metabolic profiles following consumption of high-fructose corn syrup-, sucrose-, fructose-, and glucose-sweetened beverages with meals. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2008 May; 87(5):1194-1203.

Posted in: Nutrition, Public Health

Leave a Comment (94) ↓

94 thoughts on “High Fructose Corn Syrup: Tasty Toxin or Slandered Sweetener?

  1. Citizen Deux says:

    Fantastic summary of the history and nature of sugars! Well done! I also applaud the appeal to moderation. This is a domain that the alt-med / alt-nutritional proponents seem to ignore in modern medical advice. There is no 100% “risk free” option for lifestyle, however, eating right, exercising and taking care of one’s mental health goes a long way to impriving health.

    I guess we can start by no longer stresing out about HFCS.

  2. Angora Rabbit says:

    Thanks for a great post! You did an outstanding job of capturing the arguments and realities about HFCS and sweeteners in general.

    I lecture on this topic to senior pre-med and dietetic students in my biochemical nutrition course. Eventually the students who were paying attention (most of them, truly) ask the same question, “But if HFCS and sucrose have roughly the same composition, why do we worry about HFCS and not sucrose?”

    You do a great job of explaining that this is a question of economics. HFCS is so much cheaper so it is far more ubiquitous. And yes, because it is sweeter one uses less HFCS than sucrose. But because it is cheap it is added to many more products. (Take a look at food labels to see what I mean, especially products that are labeled “fat free.”)

    Additionally, shoppers generally prefer the sweeter product. This means the manufacturers have no incentive to reduce or even omit HFCS from the product, because they have clear data showing that will harm sales. We only have ourselves to blame, as consumers, for the ubiquitous presence of HFCS.

    Regarding metabolism, which I know you weren’t talking about, let me add that fructose does not elicit an insulin response by itself (hence its use by diabetics). By itself it is cleared by the liver. But in the presence of glucose (either from HFCS or sucrose), the insulin diverts the fructose away from glycolysis and energy metabolism (TCA cycle), and toward storage as fat. (Technically it is preferentially converted to fru-1-P vs. fru-6-P, so by-passes PFK and can instead be converted to AcetylCoA.

    This is so well written that it would make a wonderful teaching tool for students – congratulations!

  3. cogwheel says:

    I think it’s worth pointing out that one of the main reasons for the difference in cost between sugar and HFCS is due to the combined effect of corn subsidies and sugar tariffs. This is the only reason it’s more cost-effective to use HFCS in the US. Soda is bottled using cane/beet sugar in our neighbors to the north and south.

  4. Happy Camper says:

    Bravo sir!

  5. Joe says:

    Excellent post!

  6. Ian says:

    More of this please.

    It’s really hard to sort out the good and bad nutrition information, since there’s just so much of it. Plus there’s a lot of legitimately conflicting science.

  7. What a lovely post.

    “Eat a variety of foods, including a small amount of sweets, get enough exercise, watch your (and your children’s) weight and see your doctor for regular health check-ups.”

    What is “a small amount”?

    A vegan-friendly cookbook I relied on heavily in the 1980s advised the use of molasses, honey and maple syrup in place of white sugar. Their rationale? These sweeteners are expensive and/or strongly flavoured, so you’re less likely to overuse them. I continue to endorse this practice. (They also advised serving nuts in the shell for the same reasons.)

  8. Radar Jer says:

    Great post. It’s easy to get just get caught up in the HCFS is bad attitude.

    Quick question: are glucose and fructose equivalent in cal/g?

  9. Excellent post, Dr. Laidler. Here are a few more articles on HFCS that may be of interest to you.

    My critique of the Princeton rodent study on HFCS: http://weightology.net/weightologyweekly/?page_id=19

    Alan Aragon’s critique of Dr. Lustig’s HFCS lecture: http://www.alanaragonblog.com/2010/01/29/the-bitter-truth-about-fructose-alarmism/

  10. Josie says:

    Enjoyable and informative post!

    Angora Rabbit voiced the concern I have had about HFCS –mainly that it is in *everything*.

    Finding HFCS in my ketchup was the start of my personal campaign to make just about everything I eat in my own kitchen. Eliminating gratuitous sweetness has the happy effect of decreasing the associated gratuitous calories.

    Alison –I thought honey was not vegan friendly?

  11. cervantes says:

    Actually the main objection to HFCS is just that it makes sugary beverages and snacks ridiculously cheap. That’s why McDonald’s wanted you to supersize your sodas — they could charge more for a product whose marginal cost to them is negligible. HFCS makes high calorie, low nutritional density “foods” the cheapest thing in the supermarket.

    It’s not that HFCS is uniquely bad for you, it’s just that too much sugar is bad for you and HFCS is a reason why there is so damn much of it in the food supply. Hence proposals for a sugary beverage tax.

  12. mdarby says:

    Excellent post!

    I shop at Whole Foods, which apparently has a policy not to sell any product with HFCS while happily selling agave products. It’s ironic because agave seems to be a highly industrially-processed product. It’s unclear to me how it is more “natural” (presumably the reason it is featured) than HFCS which comes from corn.

    After pointing this out to some friends, they’ve reconsidered their views on sugars in general as you suggest.

    Dr. Laidler, I wonder if I could ask you a broader question about nutrition. It seems fairly widely held that eating a moderate, varied diet including a variety of foods including fresh fruits and vegetables is a sound choice. However, when reading research skeptical of vitamins, supplements, wheat grass juice, etc. I see many claims that most vitamins, enzymes, etc. in foods don’t survive the human digestive process. I am therefore unclear why the recommended diet is superior, other than by virtue of its macro-nutrient content.

    Is there a good source you recommend for helping to understand why the diet we think is good for us is actually good for us? I am really thinking high level here, as opposed to whether a specific food or compound has merit.

    Lacking this knowledge, it’s hard for me to judge whether specific foods make sense. For example, my wife encourages me to eat various “super foods.” I am skeptical, and they are certainly costly, but I would prefer to have a better framework for evaluating.

    I realize this is a general question, but I’ve actually been searching the web in vain for source of critical thinking and writing on science based nutrition. Your post certainly fits the bill!

  13. Thanks for the excellent post. It is very close to a post topic sitting in my blog ideas queue regarding “all fruit juice” juice cocktails vs sweetened juice cocktails that I can probably throw out now. A very well done presentation of the facts.

  14. cervantes says:

    Vitamins do indeed survive digestion — by definition, they are specific compounds that we must consume in our food in order to maintain health. However, more is not better — there is a right amount.

    Enzymes generally do not survive digestion.

    Whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables contain lots of vitamins and other essential nutrients; dietary fiber which is good both for your colon, and because it reduces the post-prandial “glycemic spike” which is associated with development of type 2 diabetes; and because they have high nutritional density in relation to their caloric content. They also have the “right” kind of fats for the most part (not palm oil, alas) compared with animal fats which promote high LDL levels.

    Lots of studies show that a diet rich in the above is good for you. Unfortunately, supplements for the most part have failed to show benefits for people with otherwise good nutrition. So eat your rabbit food!

  15. Pieter B says:

    I have a few acquaintances (and one friend) who are HFCS-phobic and use agave syrup instead. I think I’m going to start telling them that they’re still ingesting HFCS, they’ve just changed the C-word to “cactus.”

    I prefer the more processed form of agave nectar bottled by Dons Julio and Eduardo, et al.

  16. xwolp says:

    As a German these kinds of discussions always fascinate me for a simple reason: Here the heavily subsidized Industry that is producing the most sweetener is the sugar beet industry… that alone changes the whole idealogical spin.
    For many years, the presence of HFCS (her more accurately named glucose-fructose-syrup) was never heard of in the media and it was almost never seen outside of specialized industries (candy making, beekeeping (full disclaimer, my dad is involved there), where it’s chemical similarity with honey makes it a perfect substitute)
    Pure Fructose was mainly only seen in diet foods for diabetics (full disclaimer, I am one), a place where they undoubtedly did more harm than good.
    Suddenly a few years back it finally started showing up in more and more food items.. the curious thing is: it was touted as “the all natural sweetness of fruits”, promising to topple the monopoly of the Big Farmer “crystalline sugar” empire.
    Personally I still don’t like HFCS products.. but only because I do not care for the taste

  17. cdmerch says:

    As others have pointed out, the biggest objection to HFCS is that a) it makes sugar so cheap, contributing to the flood of sugary foods and b) the broader socio-political effects of the agricultural system that makes it so cheap. People are concerned about monocultures (specifically corn and soy) and the health/environmental degradation that results from them.

    HFCS doesn’t have to be less healthy than other sugars to be bad. What has people upset is that it’s part of an artificially supported system that has negative effects on the environment, and contributes to making unhealthy food often the only choice for low-income families.

  18. Josie,

    Honey is not vegan, but the recipes in my not-vegan-but-vegan-friendly cookbook sometimes called for it.

  19. … where it could be substituted with molasses or maple syrup.

  20. marguerida says:

    I try to avoid HFCS because of its ubiquity, and also because avoiding HFCS pushes me away from processed foods. Bread doesn’t need sweetener (beyond a tsp of sugar to get a better reaction from the yeast). But I have a bottle of corn syrup in my pantry for pecan pie and caramels. I like the idea of more expensive sweeteners to minimize use.

    Josie – it depends on the vegan. Some think it’s ok, some don’t. It’s like the question if someone who eats fish can be vegetarian.

  21. Alexie says:

    There are serious problems with HFCS that have been mentioned by some posters. The fact that it’s heavily subsidised and heavily processed – meaning lots of oil is needed to make it – make it a problematic product. If it was sold at the ‘real’ price it cost to make it, all those junk foods that cause so much damage would become much more expensive.

    That poor quality, high energy food with serious health side effects is so much cheaper than fruit and vegetables is a public health issue. If the subsidies were dropped, that situation might begin to right itself.

    HFCS IS a nutritional baddie in the overall, economic scheme of things.

  22. Happy Camper says:

    It appears to me that the objections (from a health prospective) of HFCS are in large part ideological and not based on evidence. That said we do consume far too much sugar (of all types) for our own good. A nice follow up of this would be a blog on carbohydrates and how they are metabolized into usable forms by the body.

  23. Bevans says:

    Great explanation. I’ve always wanted a write-up like this – clearly written, unbiased, and well-documented.

    I’d love to see a post on Aspartame and other artificial sweeteners, although I’m sure that’s much more difficult and the research much more ambiguous.

  24. Samantha says:

    Thank you for this.

    As someone who was eying HFCS with suspicion, I feel much better about – well, about eating food, since just about every food you buy has it in it. ‘Cept for the companies who’ve decided to advertise NOT having HFCS in their products, to ensure their sales as this particular wave of hysteria passes through the crowd.

    I’m still cranky they put sugar in everything (canned tomatoes!?), which does mean that I’m doing a whole lot more home cooking so I can control the ingredients myself. But I guess this is just more evidence about how a single study gets plastered across the news media and everyone buys into it immediately. :/

  25. clgood says:

    Great post. Thanks for doing this.

    A friend who is on the anti-HFCS bandwagon insists that this article is incomplete because it doesn’t mention “harmful carbonyls” which supposedly “up to 10 times” higher in HFCS than a diet soft-drink control.

    Supposedly these carbonyls are linked with diabetic complications such as foot ulcers, eye and nerve damage.

    The links my friend sent include:

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg19526192.800-diabetes-fears-over-corn-syrup-in-soda.html

    It seems to me they are ignoring how sucrose becomes glucose and fructose anyway. I also suspect some correlation/causation confusion. So far nothing’s convinced me that there’s anything unusual or evil about corn syrup. Maybe I’m wrong. Anybody have further info?

  26. Jim Laidler says:

    Let’s see if I can answer a few questions from the comments:

    Radar Jer asks:

    “Quick question: are glucose and fructose equivalent in cal/g?”

    Yes.

    Mdarby asks:

    “I see many claims that most vitamins, enzymes, etc. in foods don’t survive the human digestive process. I am therefore unclear why the recommended diet is superior, other than by virtue of its macro-nutrient content.”

    Enzymes – fortunately – do not generally survive the disgestive process (there are exceptions) but vitamins do. People who recommend a dietary regimen because of the enzymes contained in the foods are – with the possibility of a few exceptions – mistaken.

    For the commenters who mentioned agave syrup – remember that it is predominantly fructose. While fructose doesn’t require insulin to be utilized by the cells – which makes it “good” for diabetics – it brings along all of the adverse effects of high fructose intake.

    BTW, when agave syrup is fermented into tequila, there is very little fructose in the final product, so tequila is not a high-fructose “food”.

    Clgood:

    I don’t know much about “harmful carbonyls” in HFCS – I’ll do some literature research and get back to you (probably not ’til tomorrow).

    Thanks,

    Jim Laidler

  27. antipodean says:

    My understanding was that HFCS is not really cheaper than sucrose based alternatives. It’s simply that the american political system pays people to grow too much corn. It’s a market distortion.

    Try a Coke in another country. It doesn’t have HFCS in it. It tastes different. Bread too.

  28. wales says:

    You forgot to mention mercury exposure from HFCS. Some US HFCS manufacturers have stated that the technology which produces the mercury is outdated, however, HFCS is being manufactured in many countries today, and food packaging does not specify its source or form of manufacture.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/26/AR2009012601831.html

  29. Zoe237 says:

    Re: moderation. It’s a lot easier to be moderate with honey/maple yrup/ sugar because it is not IN EVERYTHING.

  30. Jim Laidler on the ubiquity of sugar: “We literally live in a world of sugar.”

    Zoe237 on the special ubiquity of HFCS: “Re: moderation. It’s a lot easier to be moderate with honey/maple yrup/ sugar because it is not IN EVERYTHING.”

    Zoe237, you’re missing the point. Sugar is in everything. What are you worried about exactly? The fructose? If you’re afraid of fructose, stop drinking soda or fruit juice and stop eating fruit. (Honey is high-fructose, so you have to be moderage about that too.)

    I don’t get what all this fear of HFCS “in everything” is coming from. What do you-all eat? I don’t think there’s any HFCS in anything I eat in a typical week.

    Are people afraid of their soda being poisoned with HFCS? Nobody should be drinking soda in the first place! When I was a kid, soda was something that we only had in the house for birthday parties. If you think that there’s something inherently normal about soda, that you have a right to drink soda with niether sugar nor artificial sweeteners like god intended you to… you’re, um, not thinking very clearly.

  31. Jim Laidler says:

    Clgood,

    The research findings referred to in the New Scientist article were published in 2008:

    Tan D et al. Methylglyoxal: Its presence in beverages and potential scavengers. Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 2008 Apr;1126:72-5.

    While they found “extremely high levels” of methylglyoxal in soft drinks sweetened with HFCS (almost 20 micromolar, in one sample), they didn’t test any soda sweetened with sucrose, so – again – there is no data to indicate that HFCS is worse than “cane sugar” in this regard.

    In 2009, Nakayama et al [1] demonstrated that sugar-containing soft drinks (they didn’t specify which sweetener had been used, just that they contained glucose) raised both glucose and methylglyoxal blood levels. Both peaked at around 30 minutes, with the methylglyoxal levels rising about 25% from baseline – as high as 200 nmol/L in one subject.

    Interestingly, the methylglyoxal levels returned to baseline at the same time as the blood glucose levels (by 60 minutes).

    Reactive carbonyl compounds are a significant factor in many of the complications of diabetes. They are one family of “advanced glycation end products” (AGE’s) They are formed through the reaction of sugar and amino acids.

    Reactive carbonyls – like glyoxal, methylglyoxal and 3-deoxyglucosone – are breakdown products of the initial Maillard reaction. For a good review, I’d suggest [2].

    Unfortunately, none of the studies I could find compared HFCS to sucrose, nor did any of the studies I found give any rationale why HFCS might be worse than sucrose in terms of “harmful carbonyls”.

    Once again, it appears that while there may be many reasons to reduce sugar intake, there isn’t any data showing that HFCS is worse than sucrose or that substituting sucrose for HFCS would reduce the harm.

    Jim Laidler

    [1] Nakayama K et al. Carbonated soft drinks and carbonyl stress burden. J. Toxicol. Sci. 2009. 34(6):699-702.

    [2] Turk Z. Glycotoxines, carbonyl stress and relevance to diabetes and its complications. Physiol. Res. 2010 59: 147-156.

  32. Jim Laidler says:

    Zoe237,

    Limiting yourself to only items sweetened with maple sugar/syrup is likely to reduce your choices in the supermarket, but there are a lot of foods that aren’t sweetened with any added sugar.

    The word “added” is critical.

    Beans and other legumes have sugars (a lot of which are indigestible and give beans their “musical” qualities). Grains are also “chock-full” of sugar, mostly in the form of starches. Even meat has sugar – a small amount – in the form of glycogen, a starch-like sugar storage compound that animals use. The only food items with no sugar (in their pure form) are fats and oils. Oh, and water.

    Alison,

    There is a way to drink soda with neither sugar nor artificial sweeteners – I do it regularly:

    Club Soda.

    Jim Laidler

  33. Zoe237 says:

    Um, Alison, I believe I was making a similar point you were. Unless I misunderstood you.

    “A vegan-friendly cookbook I relied on heavily in the 1980s advised the use of molasses, honey and maple syrup in place of white sugar. Their rationale? These sweeteners are expensive and/or strongly flavoured, so you’re less likely to overuse them. I continue to endorse this practice. (They also advised serving nuts in the shell for the same reasons.)”

    *Extra added* sugar is NOT in everything, and certainly not to the degree (in the US). HFCS is cheaper because of subsidies, so many manufacturers put it liberally in their products (like canned tomatoes, someone mentioned). If one is going to advertise moderation, you still have to read labels.

    Maybe it’s less in Canada, I dunno, but pretty much everything I pick up (canned or boxed, at least) at the grocery store has hfcs. Ketchup, mayonaise, yogurt, salad dressing, chicken broth, cereal, pickles.

    Here’s a list (and certainly not a comprehensive one)
    http://www.accidentalhedonist.com/index.php/2005/06/09/foods_and_products_containing_high_fruct

    I certainly don’t have a problem with HFCS in modertaion. I have corn syrup in my cupboard for things like pecan pie, for goodness sake. I’m fine with it in things like cookies, candy, soda. But other food? Em, no. I could cook everything from scratch, and I do my best, but convenience foods are nice too.

    And we do limit fruit. That’s all my kids would eat if we let them. ;-)

    What’s so wrong with soda in moderation, btw? It’s just carbonated water and sugar.

  34. Zoe237 says:

    “Zoe237,

    Limiting yourself to only items sweetened with maple sugar/syrup is likely to reduce your choices in the supermarket, but there are a lot of foods that aren’t sweetened with any added sugar.

    The word “added” is critical.”

    Oops, cross posted.

    Agreed, and I should have put “added” in my remarks. I still maintain that’s it’s difficult to find processed supermarket foods WITHOUT hfcs added. Which makes moderation difficult.

  35. oderb says:

    I’d like to see Dr Laidler square his assertion the HFCS is no more harmful than sucrose with this Princeton study that shows – at least in rats – that HFCS resulted in 48% more obesity than a diet with a comparable amount of sucrose. The study also states that HFCS is very different than sucrose in that the fructose in HFCS is not bound unlike the fructose in cane sugar which is bound to glucose.

    http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S26/91/22K07/

    Unless I hear a convincing rebuttal to this study I’m going to continue to avoid HFCS, notwithstanding Dr Laidler’s argument here.

  36. SF Mom and Scientist says:

    @oderb – concerning the Princeton study, here is an analysis.

    http://www.foodpolitics.com/tag/hfcs-high-fructose-corn-syrup/

    Here is just one example of how this study did not show that HFCS is more harmful than sucrose.

    “The first study used 10 male rats in each group and observed them for 8 weeks. At the end of the study, the rats fed chow alone weighed 462 grams. The rats fed sucrose plus chow weighed 477±9 grams. The rats fed HFCS plus chow weighed 502±11 grams. The authors say the difference between 477 and 502 grams is statistically significant. But these rats were offered the sugars for 12 hours per day. The rats fed HFCS for 24 hours per day, which should be expected to be fatter, were not. They weighed less (470 grams) than the rats fed sucrose for 12 hours per day. So these results are inconsistent.”

  37. SF Mom and Scientist says:

    I’d like to add that I see this focus on HFCS being evil and table sugar as being healthy as an easy way out for some people. Where I live there are certain people who love to be competitive about how healthy they are. It is pretty easy (if you have a certain amount of money) to replace the stuff in your kitchen that has HFCS with the same stuff that has “sugar”, and then you can tell yourself (and everyone around you) that you are being responsible and healthy, when really you are just eating a different version of the same junk.

  38. Ben Kavoussi says:

    I agree with cervantes that on the main objection to HFCS is not its composition but its availability, for it is tremendously cheap.

    The toxicity is not in the substance but in its dose.

    And if you call what the father of toxicology, Paracelsus, has said about toxins: that “all things are poison and nothing is without poison, only the dose allows something not to be poisonous,” then one can say that HFCS is indeed a “sweet toxin.”

  39. Zoe237 says:

    Oderb: Here is Marion Nestle’s response to that study, as well as the author’s response in the comments:

    http://www.foodpolitics.com/2010/03/hfcs-makes-rats-fat/

    She points out elsewhere on her blog that hfcs is indeed the same as table sugar, but that the issue is one of quantity, not quality. I realize that this is a medical blog and this is out of its scope, but the story goes deeper than the physiology of sugar vs. hfcs.
    http://www.foodpolitics.com/faq/#faq8

    Particularly the tactics of the American corn refiners’ association.

  40. Zoe237 on HFCS in everything: “Maybe it’s less in Canada, I dunno, but pretty much everything I pick up (canned or boxed, at least) at the grocery store has hfcs.”

    A box of whole wheat pasta? Nope, no HFCS. A box of white macaroni? Nope. A box of Red River Cereal? Uh uh. A box of milk or soy milk? Not neither. A can of tomatoes? Still no.

    “Ketchup, mayonaise, yogurt, salad dressing, chicken broth, cereal, pickles.”

    How much ketchup and mayonnaise are you eating that you think the HFCS in it is going to give you diabetes? Why aren’t you more worried about the salt in it?

    If you eat unsweetened breakfast cereal you don’t have to worry about HFCS. If you eat sweetened breakfast cereal you might as well just have cookies and milk, and if you’re having cookies for breakfast why are you worried about the kind of sugar in them? You know that it’s too much sugar and you’re eating it anyway.

  41. LMA says:

    Two quick questions I don’t see asked previously; first, if HFCS is so cheap, why is it so many pharmaceutical companies don’t use that as a filler instead of the ubiquitous lactose so many of us can’t digest? (When Immodium first came out — the anti diarhreal — it was chock full of lactose, which was pretty stupid since the doctor gave it to me while I was failing the lactose tolerance test so I could escape their bathroom!) And, speaking of sugars that give the runs, what is sorbitol? Is that not an actual “sugar?”

    As to soda, I’ll stick to a week of drinking Kosher for Passover Dr. Brown’s cream soda with good old table sugar. So sweet I can never drink more than 5-6 ounces at a time, if that. Yum.

  42. Enjoyed the review, Jim!

    You leave us with a recommendation to enjoy sweets in moderation. Here’s some perspective to help establish what is “moderate.”

    Currenty in the U.S., average “added sugar” intake is 22 teaspoons a day.

    Sugar-sweetened beverages, including soft drinks, are the major source of added sugars in American diets. Between 1970 and 2000, intake of these drinks increased 70%.

    Calorie intake from beverages more than doubled between1965 and 2001.

    I am reminded that while there are essential fats and essential proteins (amino acids), there are no essential carbohydrates. ["Essential" meaning necessary for us to obtain from food.]

    -Steve

  43. @oderb:

    Zoe already linked to one critique of the Princeton study. Here is my critique of the same paper:

    http://weightology.net/weightologyweekly/?page_id=19

    The bottom line is that the Princeton study’s results are more likely a fluke than real

  44. Zoe237 says:

    Zoe237 on HFCS in everything: “Maybe it’s less in Canada, I dunno, but pretty much everything I pick up (canned or boxed, at least) at the grocery store has hfcs.”

    Alison:
    A box of whole wheat pasta? Nope, no HFCS. A box of white macaroni? Nope. A box of Red River Cereal? Uh uh. A box of milk or soy milk? Not neither. A can of tomatoes? Still no.

    Obviously you didn’t bother to read that list. Rice krispies, raisin brain, corn flakes, ritz crackers, wheat thins, whole grain breads, and cans of tomatoes have hfcs in them. The only thing I haven’t seen hfcs in it noodles, I’ll grant you that. We usually stick to oatmeal, noodles, fruit, veggies, rice, homemade crackers, but it’d be nice if some processed foods would be available without added sugar/hfcs, and without being more expensive. Not a complex point.

  45. “What’s so wrong with soda in moderation, btw? It’s just carbonated water and sugar.”

    What’s ‘moderation?’ A litre a day, or a glass on your birthday? Everyone thinks that their own personal consumption is ‘moderate,’ so it’s a concept that needs defining before it’s used.

    Sugar might not be toxic but it either displaces actual food or makes you fat. Say you have a personal caloric budget of around 1,800 calories. Each can of carbonated sugar water you buy and drink takes 8% of your budget. That’s 8% of your caloric budget that you have just thrown out the window when you could have used it for fruit, vegetables, cheese or whatever. These things have actual value for you and the sugar-water doesn’t. For an adult it’s not great, but it’s not such a big deal.

    Kids are growing and developing and can’t afford to just throw away 13% of their food budget every day (a child with a daily caloric budget of 1,200 calories takes a bigger hit than an adult).

    But maybe you do eat your entire food budget and you just drink your sugar-water on top of it. That means that for each can of sugar-water you drink, you are consuming 8% more than you need. That’s huge.

    From wikipedia.org: “Pepsi is made with carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, sugar, phosphoric acid, caffeine, citric acid and natural flavors. A can of Pepsi (12 fl ounces) has 41 grams of carbohydrates (all from sugar), 30 mg of sodium, 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of protein, 38 mg of caffeine and 150 calories.”

    wikipedia.org on the biological effects of phosphoric acid on bone calcium and kidney health: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phosphoric_acid#Biological_effects_on_bone_calcium_and_kidney_health
    “Food-grade phosphoric acid (additive E338) is used to acidify foods and beverages such as various colas, but not without controversy regarding its health effects. It provides a tangy or sour taste and, being a mass-produced chemical, is available cheaply and in large quantities. … Phosphoric acid, used in many soft drinks (primarily cola), has been linked to lower bone density in epidemiological studies. … Cola consumption has also been associated with chronic kidney disease and kidney stones through medical research. The preliminary results suggest that cola consumption may increase the risk of chronic kidney disease.” (Conclusion: we know that people who drink a lot of soda have more osteoporosis and kidney stones, but we aren’t sure why. We used to think the phosphoric acid was the culprit for osteoporosis, but now we think it’s more likely ‘milk displacement’ or possibly caffeine. Phosphoric acid is still under suspicion in the case of chronic kidney disease.)

    We need about 1,500 mg sodium per day. One can of cola is about 2% of that; a can of club soda, about 5%. If you switch from cola to club soda trying to cut down on the sweeteners and phosphoric acid, you’ll take a hit on the sodium. In general we consume much more sodium than we need. 2–5% of your sodium in 8% of your calories doesn’t sound like that big a deal, but most of us have trouble keeping our sodium intake down to a reasonable level and it’s just not necessary.

    Water works just fine. There’s no need to worry about whether it’s eating into your energy or sodium budget (it isn’t) or whether it’s causing osteoporosis or kidney disease (it isn’t). And it’s free.

    Look, none of us are going to keel over and die from a weekly can of cola or club soda. But why are we drinking them in the first place? Especially when we then have to itemise the chemicals in them and make a list and a cost-benefit analysis and compare to our personal health and nutrition profiles and decide whether they are worth it?

    Michael Pollan on food and fretting about what’s on the label: “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much. … Once, food was all you could eat, but today there are lots of other edible foodlike substances in the supermarket. These novel products of food science often come in packages festooned with health claims, which brings me to a related rule of thumb: if you’re concerned about your health, you should probably avoid food products that make health claims. Why? Because a health claim on a food product is a good indication that it’s not really food, and food is what you want to eat.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/28/magazine/28nutritionism.t.html

  46. KB says:

    “Actually the main objection to HFCS is just that it makes sugary beverages and snacks ridiculously cheap.”

    I have never heard that argument, or any of the socio-economic arguments, against HFCS, before this comments thread. Which, I mean, you seem to have a good point, but I’m not sure you can call that the “main objection.” Maybe the more reasonable objection. But every hippie friend who is horrified I eat ketchup laden with HFCS and every food blog that provides a recipe for homemade HFCS-free ketchup list health reasons for doing so. It may just be my hippies and the part of the internet I read, but the health claims separate from any economic reasoning are very widespread.

  47. Zoe237 on the ubiquity of sugar in sweetened foods: “Rice krispies, raisin brain, corn flakes, ritz crackers, wheat thins, whole grain breads, and cans of tomatoes have hfcs in them.”

    Yes, that’s correct. Sweetened foods have sugar in them. When you look at the labels you discover that most cold breakfast cereals are candy. It doesn’t matter whether it’s HFCS or sucrose. What matters is whether you think you should be eating candy for breakfast.

    If you define ‘cereal’ as ‘presweetened rice krispies, raisin brain and cornflakes’ then you are going to have trouble finding it without sugar. I often have cereal for breakfast and it doesn’t have added sugar. I used to be able to get unsweetened cornflakes but my local store doesn’t stock them any more. However, Spoon-size shredded wheat (NOT mini-wheats) is a yummy, crunchy unsweetened cold cereal. I enjoy cold rolled oats with milk and raisins, and in the winter I make cooked cereal. All of these options are more food-like than cornflakes anyway, presweetened or not.

    Most – not all – crackers are greasy, salty and sweet. Whether the sweet happens to come from HFSC or sucrose is a minor issue. (Doing some quick googling, the only sweetening I see in Stoned Wheat Thins is malted barley flour. I guess you have a different brand in your parts.)

    Not all whole grain breads have sugar in them. Neither do all cans of tomatoes. Check the ingredients and find a brand you like.

    If you read the ingredients you will find that much of what you buy at the grocery store isn’t actually food, but merely “edible foodlike substances.” However, there is a great deal of food available at the grocery store.

  48. Zoe237 says:

    Zoe237, you’re missing the point. Sugar is in everything. What are you worried about exactly? The fructose? If you’re afraid of fructose, stop drinking soda or fruit juice and stop eating fruit. (Honey is high-fructose, so you have to be moderage about that too.)

    I don’t get what all this fear of HFCS “in everything” is coming from. What do you-all eat? I don’t think there’s any HFCS in anything I eat in a typical week.

    Actually, Alison, Michael Pollan makes the exact same point I, and a few others commenters, are making:

    The Corn Refiners Association, for example, doesn’t like Pollan’s take on high-fructose corn syrup. Because of agricultural subsidies, it is very cheap, and it shows up everywhere. It’s why our food is a lot sweeter than it was 100 years ago and why sweet foods are so much cheaper — and one reason we’re eating more of them than ever before, he maintains.

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/weightloss/2008-01-08-michael-pollan_N.htm

    I never said that it was impossible to moderate/avoid HFCS, or added sugar, just that it is difficult for the average consumer in the US. It takes more time and money, and contributes to the obesity epidemic for this reason. NOT because HFCS is different than sucrose chemically, but because it is so ubiquitous. Actually, even Marion Nestle makes the distinction- it’s easy to say “eat in moderation” but because it’s in so much, rather harder in practice. Other than that, it seems like you’re just arguing for the sake of argument rather than any real disagreement, so I’m done.

  49. “I never said that it was impossible to moderate/avoid HFCS, or added sugar, just that it is difficult for the average consumer in the US. It takes more time and money, and contributes to the obesity epidemic for this reason.”

    It takes more time, but cooked cereal is cheaper than cold. Cooking rice from scratch is cheaper than heating up a can of cooked flavoured rice. A peanut butter sandwich from home is cheaper than the $2.35 sandwich I can buy from the vending machine in the basement, even if I use real peanut butter.

    My point is that processed food is processed food. Why complain that processed food has HFCS in it when there is so much else wrong with it? (I get now that you aren’t complaining specifically about HFCS but about added sugar generally, which happens to be HFCS because it’s cheap. I’d missed that before. Sorry.)

    It’s not that I don’t eat processed food. I do. I also eat out once a week, and it’s hard to find cheap restaurant food that isn’t sweet, greasy and oversalted. It may or may not have HFCS in it and I don’t care if it is: it’s gross, and I won’t eat out more than once a week for that reason.

    We may have unrealistic expectations of what food should cost. “Just Peanuts” peanut butter costs a certain amount. An enterprising manufacturer could cut peanut butter with shortening and add salt and sugar to hide the loss of flavour. It would be cheaper than actual peanut butter. People would buy it. What happens next is that sweet-and-salty-peanut-flavoured-crisco sets the new base price for peanut butter and people start complaining that real peanut butter is priced out of reach.

    If we have become deskilled and don’t know how to cook for ourselves any more; if we have to work so many hours outside the home that we aren’t available for domestic production; if we aren’t paid enough that we can afford food and we need to resort to cheaper substitutes – all these things respond to a good old fashioned marxist analysis. Nothing to do with HFCS vs sucrose. A current “cheaper substitute” for food just happens to be HFCS, but there are also our old friends salt and hydrogenated fat, and the new, high-tech melamine.

  50. TsuDhoNimh says:

    Marvelous. Now can you do the “Glycemic index”?

    I have seen agave syrup touted as being fabulous because of its “low glycemic index”, which I find hard to understand because the stuff is all sugar,

  51. TsuDhoNimh says:

    @ mdarby …
    Agave syrup is the result of the great tequila boom and bust. Thousands of hectares of agaves are reaching harvest size, and the demand for tequila is not where the people who planted the agaves thought it would be.

    So, they decided that extracting the juice and concentrating it to sell as a sweetener would be a way to salvage the crops. It’s always been done in Mexico for local consumption, but they added all the “superfood” hype, quaint legends and a lot of marketing BS to it and are getting premium prices for something that is just another high-fructose liquid.

  52. Thanks for the article. Last month I got a new cooking magazine called “Clean Living” I thought several of the recipes looked a bit different from the run of the mill light cooking mag, so I gave it a try. Once I started reading, I noticed that one of their “health recommendations” was to replace regular sugar (that you buy in a big old bag anywhere) with raw honey or some form of raw sugar (which is harder to find more expensive), because “It’s healthier”. I did a bit of web searching, couldn’t find any real information of what is healthier*. But the HEY! here’s this article. Lucky coincidence.

    Regarding using more expensive sugars in home cooking as a form of self control. Maybe it’s just my overwhelming cheapness, but I hate this idea. I’d rather buy the cheap sugar, or the local sugar (which is cheapest in Michigan, anyway.) and drop the extra $2-4 in the food drive box at the counter. That way I’ll have sugar at home to bake, won’t constantly be running to the health food store a 1/2 hour away to buy another tiny jar of $4.00 raw mesquite honey, or just giving up and buying hohos at the grocery store.

    On the other hand, I’m sure that someone could say a double pack of hohos in the hand is actually healthier than a dozen cookies in the oven. :)

    Regarding sugar in everything. Outside of cookies or ice cream for a treat, ketchup and salad dressing that are used in small quantities, I tend to try to avoid added sugars since my son has flawed tooth enamel and is prone to lots of cavities. The thing is, you can buy peanut butter, jam, cereal and fresh fruit, canned fruit without a lot of extra sugar, but often it will cost you more. I understand it’s economics – smaller market, higher price – but it always bums me out to pay extra for less. :P

    Regarding the corn subsidies. A while back I heard a guy with a book on NPR talking about how the 1950 concept of nutrition, which was meat heavy, dairy heavy and corn heavy has become established and ingrained due to government supports and subsidies and has possibly become counter productive to the health of the nation. Quite interesting.

    *although I did find out that honey from bees that have been harvesting Rhododendrons can kill you. I did not know that.

  53. Oh, and I’d second the carbs – glycemic index suggestions for future articles.

  54. bigpuma says:

    I noticed this post was added to my Health Behavior News digest email this morning. I wonder if that will drive views today. Great post, thanks for the information.

  55. Jim Laidler says:

    LMA asks:

    “…if HFCS is so cheap, why is it so many pharmaceutical companies don’t use that as a filler instead of the ubiquitous lactose so many of us can’t digest?”

    HFCS is a liquid and lactose is a fine granular solid. HFCS would leak out of and dissolve gelatin capsules and is understandably difficult to press into tablets.

    Another question is why lactose and not sucrose or maltose? I haven’t got an answer to that.

    LMA also asks:

    “…speaking of sugars that give the runs, what is sorbitol? Is that not an actual “sugar?” “

    Sorbitol is a “sugar alcohol” – it is made by the reduction of glucose, converting the aldehyde group of glucose to a hydroxyl group. It tastes sweet to us (about 60% the sweetness of sucrose, by weight), presumably because its structure is similar to glucose, but it is slowly metabolized (by sorbitol dehydrogenase), so it usually isn’t fully digested/absorbed before it leaves the gut.

    Therein lies sorbitol’s other use – as a laxative. It binds water, keeping the colon from dehydrating the stool as much and leads to more liquid in the stool. Enough sorbitol can lead to very liquid stools, indeed.

    Xylitol, another sugar alcohol, is also used as a substitute sweetener, being about as sweet as sucrose by weight. It also can act as a laxative if enough is consumed.

    As far as I know, the only sugar alcohol that isn’t a laxative (except at extremely high doses) is erythritol. It is absorbed through the small intestine (presumably on the glucose transporter) and is excreted in the urine (so it may act as a mild diuretic). I bring up erythritol because it is often used as a “bulking agent” for stevia.

    Stevia is about 250 times as sweet, by weight, as sucrose, so measuring the proper amount for your coffee would be a real chore if it wasn’t diluted (“bulked”) by another compound. Erythritol is commonly used for this, since it is about 70% as sweet, by weight, as sucrose on its own and dissolves pretty much the same as sucrose.

    Well, I’ve wandered around enough.

    Jim Laidler

  56. Great post, Dr. Laidler, but I was wondering if you could help me with a couple references? I’m trying to figure out whether HFCS-42 and HFCS-55 are actually sweeter than sucrose. Although you explain that they are both sweeter than sucrose, this paper says that this is a common misconception, and pegs HFCS-55 at approximately the same sweetness as sucrose:
    http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/full/88/6/1716S?ijkey=QWxerxxoSOP4o&keytype=ref&siteid=ajcn

    I was looking around your references for this information, and I couldn’t find anything. Did you just make a calculation based on the sweetness of the individual components, or was there another resource that you looked at? Thanks!

  57. Pieter B says:

    Jim Laidler:

    BTW, when agave syrup is fermented into tequila, there is very little fructose in the final product, so tequila is not a high-fructose “food”.

    On a related note, I’ve seen several vodkas in the local BevMo labeled “GLUTEN-FREE!”

  58. clgood says:

    Jim: Thank you so much for the thorough reply! I will continue to lose no sleep over HFCS.

  59. Jim Laidler says:

    Inoculated Mind,

    Most of the material I found did not have a “head-to-head” sweetness comparison of HFCS and sucrose – those that did were older, e.g.:

    White JS, Parke DW. Fructose adds variety to breakfast. Cereal Foods World 1989;34:392–8. (cited in White JS, 2008).

    The calculated sweetness (using a mass balance equation) varies depending on which source of relative sweetness you use. White (2008) used the figures in Schiffman (2000) [8]; if he had used the figures in Schallenberger and Acree (1971) – also cited in his 2008 paper – he would have come up with a relative sweetness of 132 – 136% for HFCS 55.

    Hanover and White (1993) [9] – the same White as in the paper you cite – give a good review of why it is difficult to compare the sweetness of sucrose to sweeteners containing fructose – for one, the sweetness of fructose peaks faster. In addition, Davis (1995) [10] and Shallenberger (1978) [11] show how the sweetness of fructose depends on the pH and temperature of the solution.

    In addition, there are significant differences in the “mouth feel” of HFCS vs sucrose (so I am told – my palate is apparently not sufficiently educated) that can also affect the comparison.

    Some of the HFCS manufacturers’ promotional literature from ten years ago touts the sweetness edge of HFCS 55 over sucrose, but more recently they have backed away from that claim, possibly in response to public concerns.

    In short, I based my claim that HFCS was sweeter than sucrose by weight on a preponderance of information – not all of it from high-quality sources. It would be fascinating to do a modern “head-to-head” sweetness test of HFCS 55 and sucrose, but it would have to take into account the influence of the milieu on the sweetness of fructose.

    Jim Laidler

  60. Eliot89 says:

    It’s posts like these that make SBM such an amazing blog. It serves as a repository for actually enlightening information. I really appreciate the work you guys do. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE keep it up!!!

    Eliot Silbar

  61. cynthia1770 says:

    Hi Dr. Laidler,
    My google alert picked up your post.
    Solid reading. I found it interesting that HFCS-55 was designed to
    be sweeter than sucrose so that end manufacturers could use
    less and (in our fetish to reduce calories) impart the same sweetness with less sweetener. This is purely conjecture, but
    the corn chemists may have also found out that a fructose rich
    sweetener was slightly addictive. What a way to increase profits–
    bottle stuff that doesn’t quench our thirst.
    I do, however, disagree with your statement that HFCS-42, sucrose, and HFCS-55 have about the same amount of fructose relative to sugar content.
    Sugar is 50:50 and HFCS-55 is 55% fructose : 45% glucose (actually some references use 55% fructose: 42%), but I will use the more conservative figures. These ratios may seem similar, until
    you sit down and do the math.
    55%:45% = 55/ 45 = 1.22. This means in every American Coke there is, compared to glucose, 22% more fructose. What does this
    mean in everyday terms:
    5 HFCS-55 Cokes = 4.25 Sucrose Coke + 0.75 Fructose sweetened
    Coke (if it existed). Considering that the average teen chugs a few
    sodas daily, that is a lot of extra fructose the liver is forced to metabolize.
    The reason the % is greater than expected is due to the law of
    solutions. In a two component solution, if one solution increases the other must decrease. You can only have 100%. And this
    relationship, fructose vs. fru/glu is not linear.
    A few data points:
    50:50 = 1.0
    51:49= 1.04
    53:47 = 1.13
    55:45 = 1.22
    57:43 = 1.33
    To me this is worrisome. Unlike sucrose, a disaccharide, HFCS-55 is
    only a mixture. What are the tolerances for production error.
    Let’s say Cargill’s error is 2% (sounds fair).
    55% X 1.02 = 56.1 56.1 : 43.9 = 1.28 or 28% more fructose.

    Big Soda, Coke and Pepsi, made the switch to HFCS-55 in 1984, and ever since we have been swimming in extra fructose. Stats
    say that approx a third of our ingested HFCS calories are via
    sweetened beverages. And we wonder why we are fat and diabetic.

    I was just in Europe. Simply put, we don’t look as good as they
    do. They don’t use HFCS.

    Take care,
    Cynthia Papierniak, M.S.

  62. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    Glycemic index is just the speed at which an oral sugar causes a spike in blood sugar. High GI, fast, high spike, then a crash. The crash, I believe, comes from the massive dump of insulin that your body pumps out to compensate for the high blood sugar. Fructose, which is a fruit sugar, should cause a low spike with little crash afterward – particularly if consumed as a fruit. In general, you’re better off with low GI foods – so low GI sugars, or diluted in other things to make them lower GI – protein, fats, and indigestible carbohydrates (fiber).

    I’d like to know about fructose malabsorption. Every time I drink rum, or eat watermelon, pears or certain varieties of apple, I get gut rot. But only in the morning. Sciencebasedmedicine bloggers, figure out my problem – GO!

    I don’t like stevia, I find it tastes bitter oddly enough. And I can also tell the difference between actual sugar and some artificial sweeteners. Apparently it’s genetic.

  63. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    Oops, forgot to mention – sorbitol is apparently what gives prune juice its laxative properties.

    Science! It’s awesome!

  64. Jim Laidler says:

    Cynthia1770 states:

    “This is purely conjecture, but the corn chemists may have also found out that a fructose rich sweetener was slightly addictive.”

    I’m curious – do you mean that fructose-rich sweeteners are addictive in the medical sense (withdrawal syndrome, compulsion to consume, obsession with consumption…) or in the casual sense of “something that’s so good you just want to have more”?

    Caffeine (a component of many soft drinks) is addictive; cocaine (a component of some soft drinks prior to the early 1900′s) is addictive. I haven’t seen any research suggesting that fructose is addictive. Perhaps you could cite your source?

    If it were true that fructose-rich sweeteners (at the level of enrichment seen in HFCS 55) were addictive, wouldn’t (unfermented) pear, apple and grape juice be equally addictive?

    Jim Laidler

  65. SF Mom and Scientist says:

    @Cynthia – You mention how Europeans look better than we do. I lived in France for a while, and the real reason they look better (I assume you mean thinner) is because their food portions are so much smaller than ours. People are always trying to find some kind of secret reason as to why they are thinner (it’s the wine, etc.). However, it really comes down to calories, and with portions so much smaller they are eating a whole lot fewer calories.

    They may not have HFCS in their soda, but they also drink a whole lot less of it.

  66. Enkidu says:

    Alison said, “Look, none of us are going to keel over and die from a weekly can of cola or club soda. But why are we drinking them in the first place?”

    I love Mountain Dew because it’s delicious, and a great pick-me-up during a crappy day at work. Basically, it’s yummy and makes me happy. Sorry, but I get no happiness from drinking water, unless I am working out and super thirsty.

  67. Zoe237 says:

    Maybe the French are skinnier because they smoke more? :P

    My downfall is diet coke… seems addictive to me! Would like to know more about aspartame, and if it really makes one eat more.

    Have also heard that sugar consumed with fiber is totally different still in terms of weight gain. It seems a bit reductionist to claim that sugar is sugar. There are other factors- such as the fact that fruit juice has other vitamins, unlike pop. There are no simple answers.

  68. “It seems a bit reductionist to claim that sugar is sugar. There are other factors- such as the fact that fruit juice has other vitamins, unlike pop. There are no simple answers.”

    The thing I think that is so useful to me about the “sugar is sugar” approach, is that I know I can set aside the corn syrup vs cane sugar (honey, etc) and focus on other factors, such as fiber, nutrients, other additives, etc.

    Buying food for a family can be complicated enough for me without having to select one sweetener over another.

    Also, I think the idea that there can be “healthier” sugar can be deceptive. For instance fruit juice. (This is a constant battle between my husband and I). Healthy drink loaded with nutrients or sugary treat with many of the nutrients squeezed out of it? The “sugar is sugar” guideline shows why both our dentist and pediatrician recommend limiting fruit juice.

  69. Dawn says:

    @Dr Laidler: thanks for your explanation about HFCS and this:

    “Therein lies sorbitol’s other use – as a laxative. It binds water, keeping the colon from dehydrating the stool as much and leads to more liquid in the stool. Enough sorbitol can lead to very liquid stools, indeed.”

    I discovered that I am very sensitive to sorbitol when I bought a box of those “100 calories” cookies snack packs. Took me a few days to figure out why I had the runs EVERY time I ate one of them…usually after only an hour or so. I threw the rest of the packs away.

    Now my husband, who was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes a year ago, buys all this diabetic stuff and it’s all sweetened with sorbitol. Doesn’t bother him a bit.

  70. Dawn says:

    @micheleinmichigan: I drink very little pop/soda. Usually water or tea, except for 1 large coffee in the mornings. Rarely juice either. Once I quit drinking those things, I discovered how very sweet they were. Now my only vice in that way is Vernor’s, which, since I can’t buy it in NJ, is a very rare treat (either I buy it when I visit my parents or they bring some out when they visit). (And NEVER diet Vernor’s…that stuff is just vile). ;)

    As I noted above, husband is diabetic (along with allergic to some cheeses) so buying processed foods can be very tricky and we are label readers. But we do try to buy more fresh/frozen stuff than processed.

  71. “# Jim Laidler
    “I’m curious – do you mean that fructose-rich sweeteners are addictive in the medical sense (withdrawal syndrome, compulsion to consume, obsession with consumption…) or in the casual sense of “something that’s so good you just want to have more”?”

    Is there a word for the evolutionary trait where when we taste that particularly high calorie combination of sugar and fat* (ice cream) our appetite tells us “Eat that until it’s gone, because tomorrow you may be starving.”?

    Also, there is the idea that we become acclimated to sweeteners, so that over time you want and use more to taste.

    Not quite addiction in the withdrawal sense, but I think (I could be wrong) the above concepts are recognized by science. Although I have no idea about fructose being more so than other sweeteners.

    *or salt and fat, or god forbid, salt, sugar and fat…Ben and Jerry Chubby Hubby

  72. rork says:

    I also wanted to bemoan how there’s sugar in too many things in my barbaric country (U.S.). I find lots of prepared foods taste bad to me because of extra sweetness, and the only reason they are there is that my fellow barbarians think it tastes better that way. They are putting sugar in the cornflakes – for no reason. My choices for unsweet breakfast cereals are pitifully few. If I point out that I didn’t like the coleslaw (or whatever) because it was sweet, my fellows will often remark that they cannot even taste it! It’s in so many things they are inured to it. Our cuisine is afflicted as well: that beautiful Copper River sockeye will be served with mango-chutney for example. That is an abomination!

  73. Rork, to true. Marinara sauce with a bunch sugar? Why?

    Also there is the “if a little sugar is good a lot will be better.” approach.

    In Kazakhstan (and I’m sure other parts of Asia/Europe) They make cakes that are half as sweet and twice as delicious.

    Dawn – are you angling for me to send you a pack of Vernor’s? :)

  74. cynthia1770 says:

    Hi,
    Wow! You respond quickly. Thank you.
    re: the addictiveness of fructose-rich sweeteners.
    No, I don’t think they are addictive in the classical sense.
    (I’ve never heard of anybody going through withdrawal or shooting someone because they needed a Pepsi fix) . “Casual” addiction is appropriately descriptive.
    HFCS-55, due to the presence of free fructose and the fructose>>glucose imbalance, may interfere with the satiety hormones, leptin and ghrelin. There was a paper from Johns Hopkins that studied the effects of fructose vs glucose on the brain’s malonyl CoA receptors. There was also a paper from Texas that compared the weight gain of rats who were given HFCS for
    a limited time and then fed the typical Standard American Diet
    (SAD). The rats pre-treated with HFCS gained the most weight.
    I’ll dig up my references.

    I realize sucrose is no saint, but we have got to get the HFCS out
    of our food supply. Currently there is an interesting lawsuit,
    lady vs. Snapple. A federal judge has now asked the FDA to
    state whether or not HFCS is a “natural” sweetener. I find this
    highly interesting. In April of 2008, the FDA said HFCS was not natural. ( In July 2008, the AMA said that HFCS didn’t contribute to obesity anymore than sucrose did.) By November, the FDA recanted and said that HFCS was natural. However, here’s the
    catch: The FDA has no real definition of what is natural.

  75. Zoe237 says:

    michelleinmichigan:

    “Also, I think the idea that there can be “healthier” sugar can be deceptive. For instance fruit juice. (This is a constant battle between my husband and I). Healthy drink loaded with nutrients or sugary treat with many of the nutrients squeezed out of it? The “sugar is sugar” guideline shows why both our dentist and pediatrician recommend limiting fruit juice.”

    Actually, there’s a big difference. The recommendation is limiting fruit juice versus ZERO pop for children. I myself drink about 1 cup/week of diet coke, despite my addiction, but I cetainly don’t claim there are any redeeming qualities, unlike a cup here and there of orange juice.

  76. Jim Laidler says:

    I’d like to take a few minutes to address some points raised in the comments:

    Fruit is good for you:

    A number of commenters bring up the point that fruit juices – although they contain sugar (including rather high levels of fructose in some cases) – also have nutrient value, e.g. vitamins, fiber, etc. This is undeniable, which is why I mentioned that you should “consider” fruit juices – not eliminate them – when looking at your (or your family’s) sugar intake.

    Getting back to the point of this article – there is no indication that HFCS is any worse (or better) than “cane sugar”, “beet sugar” or honey with respect to fructose intake. It seems clear that people – especially in the US – need to reduce their sugar intake, but the data don’t support the idea that sucrose, honey or maple syrup are significantly “healthier” than HFCS. Or, to put it another way, you don’t reap any health benefits by substituting sucrose, honey or maple syrup for HFCS.

    HFCS is “highly processed”:

    While HFCS requires extensive processing – repeatedly cited in the comments as a reason to avoid it – so does sucrose derived from sugar beets, the major source of sucrose in the US and Europe. I don’t have the figures – and I would appreciate any input from people who do have them – but the planting and harvesting of sugar beets is at least as oil-intensive as planting and harvesting corn (if not more).

    Although cane sugar requires less processing, harvesting sugar cane is back-breaking, dirty, sweaty work that is primarily done by workers in underdeveloped countries who are paid a starvation wage. This article did not touch on the environmental or social impacts of sugar, but that could be the basis for an entirely new discussion (somewhere else).

    HFCS is cheap because it is “subsidized”:

    Another point brought up repeatedly was the impact of “farm subsidies” on making HFCS so inexpensive. Having been born and raised in wheat country, I have a passing familiarity with USDA crop supports and I can’t see how they would make corn syrup cheaper. Crop supports pay farmers to not plant all of their land in order to reduce the harvest and raise the price of their grain. Perhaps this works differently with corn farming. The only other corn subsidy I am aware of is the subsidy for making ethanol, which is not a part of HFCS production. If someone is aware of a government program that reduces corn price, please let me know.

    HFCS doesn’t taste as good, etc.:

    Finally, I am not encouraging people to switch to HFCS. If you feel that sucrose tastes better or that honey makes you feel more environmentally conscious or whatever, please continue to do so. There are dozens of perfectly valid reasons for people to prefer one or more sweeteners to HFCS. And – at least in Portland – there are a number of products that cater to people’s desire to avoid HFCS. I see soda, ketchup and all manner of food products labeled “HFCS-free” or “contains NO HFCS” every time I go to the store.

    My only point is that the claim that HFCS is more of a health risk than sucrose or honey or other sweeteners is simply not supported by the available data.

    This doesn’t mean that HFCS is “good for you” – but neither are sucrose or honey. By all means, reduce your sugar intake, but don’t think that you are “eating healthy” by switching from HFCS to “cane sugar” or honey; the data simply don’t support that idea.

    Jim Laidler

  77. Ben37 says:

    Jim,

    There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that HFCS are not as healthy as other sugars. Unfortunately, just because the monosaccharide composition may be the same between different complex sugars, the way our body processes them can be vastly different. For example, while cellulose is composed primarily of glucose it is not readily broken down in the human digestive track to contribute to caloric intake. One recent study compares the equivalent caloric intake of sucrose vs HFCS and finds that animals fed HFCS became obese with elevated circulating triglyceride levels. In this study, the authors concluded that HFCS, while compositionally similar to sucrose, is often already broken down into monosaccharides which may allow the body to more rapidly metabolize and store this energy.

    High-fructose corn syrup causes characteristics of obesity in rats: Increased body weight, body fat and triglyceride levels
    Miriam E. Bocarslya, b, Elyse S. Powella, b, Nicole M. Avenaa, b, c and Bartley G. Hoebela, b

    While I like that you are investigating this topic I believe you should include an additional section which explores the possibility that HFCS may not be as healthy as other sugars.

    Ben

  78. Zoe237 – I don’t want to be diagreeable, but why is there a difference between fruit juice and pop? Calorie wise many juices are higher than coke. I’m assuming the difference is that fruit juice has more nutrition, but how much more?

    I’ve been told the actual fruit is much healthier than the juice and kids who drink juice will not eat more nutritious foods because they have filled up on juice. Honestly, for my kids, I don’t worry that much about calories, they are very active and eat pretty well (except veggies). My concern is more tooth decay issues and getting habituated to regular sweets. For those two issues, soda and fruit juice are equivalent in my mind. But, I’m not 100% married to that idea. It’s just the approach that seems to have worked best for me.

    Not that I’m militant anti-juice, I do give it to the kids when they are sick or when my husband has bought some and I’m out of fresh fruit.

    For myself, I enjoy an occasional rum punch. But I enjoy an occasional coke too. I am primarily a coffee (with steamed milk) and tea (with milk) drinker. I force myself to drink water because I know it’s good for me, but it’s not something I enjoy.

  79. @Ben37:

    Please read some of the earlier comments here regarding the Hoebel study; there are critiques available online that show the numerous flaws in the paper….namely inconsistent results among experiments, and a failure to address the inflated probability of a Type I error when performing multiple comparisons.

    There is no evidence that HFCS is more rapidly metabolized by the body than sucrose. Their glycemic indices are similar, and studies comparing their short term metabolic effects have shown them to be identical.

    James Krieger

  80. Jim Laidler says:

    Ben,

    In addition to the critiques of the Bocarslya et al study already noted, Stanhope et al [15] compared the short-term effects of HFCS and sucrose “head-to-head” in human volunteers and found no difference.

    Now, there may be studies in the future that show that HFCS poses a unique health risk not shared by sucrose, but it is unlikely that it will be found significantly different from honey (also predominantly monosaccharides) or sucrose in acidic beverages (e.g. soda, where it has been repeatedly shown to hydrolyze into its component monosaccharides within weeks of bottling).

    It is certain that I’ve overlooked some studies on the health effects of fructose (there are hundred of them) and I appreciate the efforts of readers to bring them to my attention.

    Jim Laidler

  81. ebohlman says:

    michele: The issue of fruit vs. fruit juice is simply that you have to eat what most people would regard as a lot of fruit in order to consume the same amount of sugar as you would from drinking what most people would regard as a small amount of fruit juice.

    For example, 8 ounces of orange juice is the juice from maybe 4 or 5 oranges. Most people would consider eating 8-10 oranges in one sitting to be a pigout, but wouldn’t think of two glasses of orange juice as terribly indulgent.

    In other words, fruit juice is much more calorie-dense than whole fruit.

    As for fruit juice being “healthier” than pop because it has some micronutrients, they’re ones that most people already get a more-than-adequate supply of. Micronutrients are called “micro” for a reason; it is not necessary for them to be present in every mouthful of food you eat, any more than it’s necessary that you put brake fluid in your car every time you put gas in it.

  82. Zoe237 says:

    “I’ve been told the actual fruit is much healthier than the juice and kids who drink juice will not eat more nutritious foods because they have filled up on juice. Honestly, for my kids, I don’t worry that much about calories, they are very active and eat pretty well (except veggies). My concern is more tooth decay issues and getting habituated to regular sweets. For those two issues, soda and fruit juice are equivalent in my mind. But, I’m not 100% married to that idea. It’s just the approach that seems to have worked best for me.”

    Hey, I’m just glad there are moms out there who are more strict than I am. :P I’m certainly not trying to argue that fruit juice is necessary or you can’t be healthy without it. My kids have a few cups/ week, and I personally don’t consider hfcs pop to be equivalent to fuit juice than pop (one of “in moderation” vs. “pure (tasty) evil” lol. My kids get juice a few times/week, pop only at the occassional friend’s house) .My argument would be the same if it were fruit vs. hfcs- namely that the issue is more complex than sucrose vs hfcs. I certainly don’t believe hfcs is poison, but I do put hfcs corn flakes or ketchup in a TOTALLY different category than an apple or banana, crazy one that I am.

    The point is that it’s not difficult to moderate fruit/fruit juice, or the the things that sugar is supposed to be in in greater quantities. It IS difficult when sugar is added to every last processed food on the planet. (And no, I haven’t managed to completely eliminate processed foods, particularly when somebody’s sick or we have three soccer/music/dance classes in one day)).

    Actually, I’m not sure why I’m doing such a piss poor job of communicating on this issue. This is exactly what I’m trying to say, only better:

    Nutritionist, author and food-policy doyenne Marion Nestle has blogged and written extensively about the issue and says in response to the commercials, “Lots of people think high-fructose corn syrup is the new trans fat. It isn’t. … Biochemically, it is about the same as table sugar (both have about the same amount of fructose and calories) but it is in everything and Americans eat a lot of it — nearly 60 lbs. per capita in 2006, just a bit less than pounds of table sugar. High-fructose corn syrup is not a poison, but eating less of any kind of sugar is a good idea these days and anything that promotes eating more is not.”

    And therein lies the problem. The commercials claim that just like sugar, high-fructose corn syrup isn’t unhealthy when consumed in moderation. But it’s hard to know exactly how much of it we’re actually consuming because it shows up in so many unexpected foods. “It was in my children’s vitamins!” said Elise Mackin. Because high-fructose corn syrup extends the shelf life of foods, and farm subsidies make it cheaper than sugar, it’s added to a staggering range of items, including fruity yogurts, cereals, crackers, ketchup and bread — and in most foods marketed to children. So, unless you’re making a concerted effort to avoid it, it’s pretty difficult to consume high-fructose corn syrup in moderation. “We did a consumers survey,” says Doug Radi of Boulder, Colo., based Rudi’s Organic Breads, “and less than 25% of them realized that high-fructose corn syrup is commonly used in bread.”

    Read more: http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1841910,00.html#ixzz0xffpV31A

    http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1841910,00.html

  83. Zoe237 says:

    Me:
    “It IS difficult when sugar is added to every last processed food on the planet. (And no, I haven’t managed to completely eliminate processed foods, particularly when somebody’s sick or we have three soccer/music/dance classes in one day)). ”

    Btw, that was hyperbole.

    Any response to this study, showing that glucose is better than fructose/sucrose?
    Consuming fructose-sweetened, not glucose-sweetened, beverages increases visceral adiposity and lipids and decreases insulin sensitivity in overweight/obese humans.

    http://www.jci.org/articles/view/37385

    Published in Volume 119, Issue 5 (May 1, 2009)
    J Clin Invest. 2009;119(5):1322–1334. doi:10.1172/JCI37385.
    Copyright © 2009, American Society for Clinical Investigation

    @DR. Laider:
    HFCS is cheap because it is “subsidized”:

    Another point brought up repeatedly was the impact of “farm subsidies” on making HFCS so inexpensive. Having been born and raised in wheat country, I have a passing familiarity with USDA crop supports and I can’t see how they would make corn syrup cheaper. Crop supports pay farmers to not plant all of their land in order to reduce the harvest and raise the price of their grain. Perhaps this works differently with corn farming. The only other corn subsidy I am aware of is the subsidy for making ethanol, which is not a part of HFCS production. If someone is aware of a government program that reduces corn price, please let me know.

    My understanding is that one, cane/beet sugar is more expensive to grow and process. There are also tariffs that make its importation into the US more expensive. So two strikes against sugar right there.

    The basic problem with corn farming (any farming, really) is overproduction. Prior to the 1970s, farmers were paid by the government for either letting fields lie fallow or holding onto their corn until prices rose from lack of supply (as a loan). After the Nixon era, subsidies were changed to be a direct payment, which again, encourages overproduction. For corn subsidies, the losers are the consumers and the farmer, with the middleman (processors) benefitting from drastically reduced corn prices. There is also always an added benefit/price increase built into the system for more highly processed foods. The government pays farmers both when prices are too low AND when they have produced too much. Too much corn, prices go down, and the system basically rewards farmers for producing too much. So the government makes up the difference to farmers and processors (Cargill, ADM, etc) benefit with cheap prices. It also puts farmers in Mexico and the rest of the world at a disadvantage, and cheap food (in subsidized countries) encourages obesity as well. A return to the subsidies Dr. Laidler mentions would be a huge improvement. I’d love to hear someone with more knowledge than me explain it better/correct me.

  84. Jim Laidler says:

    Zoe237 asks:

    “Any response to this study, showing that glucose is better than fructose/sucrose? Consuming fructose-sweetened, not glucose-sweetened, beverages increases visceral adiposity and lipids and decreases insulin sensitivity in overweight/obese humans.”

    Exactly my point! Glucose is the inter-cellular energy currency of the body, so it is well-tolerated even in reasonably large doses. Fructose, on the other hand, can be utilized in a relatively small number of ways (most notably, the production of fatty acids).

    Interestingly, the largest commercial source of glucose is….corn syrup (the plain variety, not HFCS).

    Unfortunately, glucose is only 60 – 70% as sweet as sucrose, so you would need to use 43 – 67% more glucose to get the same sweetness as a given amount of sucrose. That means 43 – 67% more calories, as well. Not saying that glucose is “bad” – just that it’s not a panacea.

    Thanks, Zoe237, for bringing me “up to date” on current USDA crop support – it’s been a long time since I’ve kicked a clod in wheat country. Others looking for a brief primer on crop subsidies can go to:

    http://farm.ewg.org/subsidyprimer.php

    This is the best review I’ve found, although it has a clear agenda and may not be unbiased. The USDA website is – as most bureaucratic websites tend to be – not a good place to find information quickly.

    Jim Laidler

  85. Ben37 says:

    James + Jim,

    Thanks for your replies to my previous post. I reviewed the posted criticisms of the Bocarslya et al. study and found that many of the suggested problems with the study were unfounded. 1) The authors clearly state in the methods that they expect 12hr HFCS feeding in males to elicit a greater weigh gain than 24hr HFCS based on previously published studies. 2) Male and Female weight gain differences after 12hr and 24hr HFCS are illustrated in Fig 2 and therefore do not conflict with data presented in Table 1. Without writing an essay, I would say that the authors could have included a greater number of samples for greater significance (but that’s always the case).

    Jim, thanks for pointing me to Stanhope et al [15]. I read the publication and found that the authors did show a significant p < .0065 increase in postprandial TG in response to HFCS compared to sucrose (Figure 6).

    On a fundamental note, I completely agree with the overall intent of your article. Using HFCS compared to sucrose is not the major difference between somebody who is obese and somebody who is not. Also just because HFCS is not "natural" does not mean that it is inherently worse for you. However, based on studies to date, it is not clear that what sources of sugar are the healthiest for human consumption. At the very least, the research articles mentioned above indicate that further study into this area is very much needed.

    Thanks for your time,

    Ben Carone

  86. Jim Laidler says:

    Ben,

    I completely agree that more research is necessary. I also would like to point out – in case it wasn’t clear in my article – that this is based on currently available data and the conclusions may change if new data warrant. The history of dietary health risk research tells us that today’s panacea may be tomorrow’s poison, and vice versa.

    While human research is rarely as definitive as we would like (due to factors like genetic diversity, small sample sizes, etc.), it seems pretty clear – today – that the health differences between sucrose and HFCS 42/55 are small. If people are concerned about fructose intake – and there seems to be reason for concern – they should not base their choices on the unsupported belief that sucrose, honey or other “natural” sweeteners are “healthier” than HFCS (with the possible exception of regular, “low fructose”, corn syrup, ironically).

    As an aside, I feel that there are some limitations to fructose research done with rodents. While it is a lot cheaper than using primates or pigs (pigs have a lot of digestive similarities to humans), anything we discover about fructose in rats or mice (or hamsters, guinea pigs, etc.) should be confirmed by pig/primate research or human trial.

    This is not to say that rodent research isn’t valuable – it is, not the least because it allows for large number of subjects that are genetically identical – but that we can’t take it as being strictly applicable to humans without at least a small trial in pigs, primates or humans.

    A good example of this issue was the discovery that oral glutathione – which raises blood glutathione in rats – has no effect on blood glutathione in humans. It turns out that humans have an intestinal enzyme that degrades glutathione which rats (and mice, I believe) lack.

    Zoe237,

    On further research, I discovered that the USDA also has price supports for sugar beets and – it appears – domestically produced cane sugar.

    Jim Laidler

  87. Ben:

    ***********
    1) The authors clearly state in the methods that they expect 12hr HFCS feeding in males to elicit a greater weigh gain than 24hr HFCS based on previously published studies.
    ******************

    But the problem is that the completely opposite effect was observed in the females. The authors provide no logical explanation for this, and their explanation for why it occurred in the males cannot explain why the opposite occurred in the females.

    ************
    Male and Female weight gain differences after 12hr and 24hr HFCS are illustrated in Fig 2 and therefore do not conflict with data presented in Table 1.
    *************

    Figure 2 does not illustrate these differences. Perhaps you are referring to Figures 1 and 3. But the problem is that the results in Figures 1 and 3 over 6-7 months conflict with what was observed in the males over 8 weeks. And the authors’ explanation for the 8-week results in the males (the higher gain in 12-h fed vs 24-h) do not explain why the opposite results were observed in the males and females over 6-7 months. And why no ad libitum sucrose group? It was clear from the female experiment that there was no difference between 12-h sucrose feeding and 12-h HFCS feeding.

    There is also the critical issue of the fact that the authors did not control for the family-wise type I error rate when making all of these comparisons. In the statistics section, they simply state that “post-hoc pairwise comparisons” were made. There is no mention of using techniques to control for the family type I error rate (such as through use of Bonferonni or Hochberg corrections). Thus, any significant results should be viewed with caution due to the inflated probability of a type I error.

  88. Dr. Laidler,

    I would also add to your notes regarding comparing rodents to humans that rodents have a much greater capacity for de novo lipogenesis than humans, which is why studies such as the paper from Hoebel’s lab should be viewed with some caution when trying to extrapolate them to humans.

  89. LouAlbano says:

    Regarding Stevia, does anyone have any information on this stuff? Google searching brings up plenty of places that tell you it’s fine, and then present you with a link to purchase some.

    A search of this website only produces a link back to this article due to the comments.

    I personally follow a rule of “no calories + sweet tasting == not good”. My ladyfriend uses Stevia, and defends this by siting its ‘natural’ origins. Of course I point out cocaine’s similar origins as a counter to that. Regardless, I would like to see some hard info to try to settle this for her and I.

  90. Jim Laidler says:

    LouAlbano,

    Part of the problem with Stevia is that we don’t know much about it – it hasn’t been adequately researched. However, under political pressure, the USFDA has relented and is allowing a very large – if uncontrolled – study of the potential health risks of Stevia. I would have preferred a bit more animal study before it was released for general use.

    As for the current “natural” = “good for you” bias in the community, I simply recall that botulinum toxin is also “100% natural”. Nature is – at best – indifferent to humans.

    Jim Laidler

  91. zed says:

    @ James Krieger,

    I Know Dr. Lustig, He does have a tendency to monologue at length on the subject of fructose with no chance of dissuading him of his opinions on it.

  92. Rick says:

    I haven’t read up on HFCS, so i don’t have ‘a dog in this race’. However…

    “The Cadet’s logic is sound” — for as far as it goes. Fructose, per se, would seem to be in many healthy products in addition to HFCS. Agreed.

    Whether fructose in HFCS has the same effect as fructose in the complex mixture we call an apple — that’s a more complicated question. Probably not, but maybe.

    However, I’m sure some of you have read the “mercury in HFCS” story, which has a couple important lessons (though no surprises).

    1. The food industry actually used lye (to make HFCS) that was itself produced using mercury. And this mercury contaminated both the lye and (by transitive property) the HFCS.

    They argue that they don’t do that *anymore*. But how long did they? And as nearly everything is made offshore these days, i wouldn’t assume it’s true without testing, even if they *believe* it’s true.

    2. the FDA scientist who discovered this was marginalized, punished, and prevented from publishing for quite some years, which is why the industry can say her data is outdated now.

    In short, highly processed food can be badly contaminated by the pressures of the market, the short-term thinking of food engineers, and the politics of big money.

    Which is why Michael Pollan is probably right about the need to “Eat Food”, defined as items that someone’s great grandmother would recognize as food. HFCS doesn’t fit that definition.

  93. Jim Laidler says:

    Rick comments:

    “I haven’t read up on HFCS, so i don’t have ‘a dog in this race’. However…”

    Not being “read up” on HFCS doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have an opinion – which he immediately goes on to demonstrate. It just means that he – by his own admission – doesn’t know much about the subject. I bring this up not to humiliate Rick, but to illustrate an all-too-common belief that ignorance is no bar to offering an opinion.

    Rick goes on to state:

    “The food industry actually used lye (to make HFCS) that was itself produced using mercury. And this mercury contaminated both the lye and (by transitive property) the HFCS.”

    The source of the mercury contamination – which was slight – was sodium hydroxide (lye) and sodium hypochlorite (bleach) used to clean the equipment. The reason these compounds were contaminated by mercury is that they were made in chloralkali plants, which produce them by electrolysis of brine using a mercury electrode.

    Chloralkali plants are rapidly disappearing in North America, replaced by a mercury-free process. Since almost all HFCS used in the US is made in the US, only the cleaning compounds would potentially by imported, and the HFCS manufacturers have initiated mercury testing of their cleaning products.

    Rick then makes a startling claim:

    “the FDA scientist who discovered this was marginalized, punished, and prevented from publishing for quite some years, which is why the industry can say her data is outdated now.”

    If this is true – and if Rick can provide a legitimate source for this information – that would be a serious violation of federal laws. Rather than immediately launch into a search for the information, I’ll await Rick’s reply, since he must certainly have it close at hand to make such a serious accusation.

    Jim Laidler

  94. jcwelch says:

    While HFCS requires extensive processing – repeatedly cited in the comments as a reason to avoid it – so does sucrose derived from sugar beets, the major source of sucrose in the US and Europe. I don’t have the figures – and I would appreciate any input from people who do have them – but the planting and harvesting of sugar beets is at least as oil-intensive as planting and harvesting corn (if not more).

    Having lived for a few years in a sugar beet state, (North Dakota) and waaay too close to the processing plant, (East Grand Forks, MN. I was in Grand Forks, ND), i can say that the stench alone makes me not thrilled with beet sugar. But given that we saw the beet farmers using the same equipment, same amount of trucks, et al, as the Potato and Sunflower farmers, if beet processing is less oil intensive than corn, it’s not by much. (And no, this is not even close to scientific data.)

    Although cane sugar requires less processing, harvesting sugar cane is back-breaking, dirty, sweaty work that is primarily done by workers in underdeveloped countries who are paid a starvation wage. This article did not touch on the environmental or social impacts of sugar, but that could be the basis for an entirely new discussion (somewhere else).

    I grew up in Miami, FL. Even in this country, cane farming and processing is horrible across the board, both in how they treat their workers to the environmental results of sugar farming and processing. It also reeks like the dead. Possibly worse. The sugar farms of FL. did some eeeevil things to the local ecology.

    The only things i’ve ever been around that stink worse than sugar processing are paper mills, pig farms, and sewage treatment plants.

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