Would high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) by any other name taste as sweet? Let’s face it - HFCS is getting a lot of bad press. Some of the leading experts contend that all sweeteners metabolize the same way, but HFCS has come under fire for containing an ingredient that causes body fat. And when consumers hear that, they run.
Consumers have been demanding, in high enough decibels, a change be made with regard to HFCS, and several food companies across the country have heeded their cries. Manufacturers have started removing HFCS from their product lines and replacing it with something else. And when things were gaining a bit of momentum away from HFCS as a sweetener, the Corn Refiners Association took action. In September, the association went to the Food and Drug Administration to gain approval to rename HFCS “corn sugar.”
But will that do any good? Can a different name improve the life of this product, or will it simply drive another stake into HFCS’s bad reputation? While corn syrup is in so many convenience foods, even healthy ones, there is a move downward in its use in foodstuffs. More and more companies are reverting to real sugar instead of HFCS as a sweetener. Even in bakery goods and snacks. Consumers demand it.
A recent article posted on the Philadelphia Inquirer’s website noted that concerned consumers are getting a quick response from food companies, as food makers are already removing HFCS from products and replacing it with cane or beet sugar, which is a bit more expensive. Sara Lee Corp. is the latest to jump on board, the Tribune writer says, removing the sweetener from its two best-selling breads. The pastries at Starbucks also have been revamped.
The Corn Refiner’s Assn.’s public relations campaign promoting the name change of HFCS to “corn sugar” aims to clarify and reverse the sweetener’s downward trend. Research has brought forth conflicting results about the effects of HFCS. Some reports early on indicated that HFCS, which is produced by converting sugar (glucose) in corn starch to fructose, showed a link between increased consumption of sweetened beverages (many of which contained HFCS) and obesity. More recently, the research, some of which is supported by the Washington, D.C.-based Corn Refiners and certain parts of the food and beverage industry, suggests that HFCS is no worse for us than any other sweeteners, nor is it the root cause of obesity.
Providing further scientific evidence that products containing HFCS won’t make you any fatter than will sugar, a double-blind study presented in mid-October at the Obesity Society’s 28th annual Scientific Meeting revealed that fructose-containing sweeteners, such as sugar and HFCS, do not contribute to obesity when consumed as part of a healthy weight-maintenance diet. The study also found that HFCS no more contributes to caloric intake than table sugar (sucrose).
In this country, sugar as an ingredient is usually more expensive than HFCS, though it’s not as pricey in other countries. Sugar tariffs and import restrictions make it that way. HFCS is cheap, so that’s why it has been so widely used. Some can say it’s the government’s fault that HCFC-laden foods and drinks have become ubiquitous.
The Mayo Clinic, the American Dietetic Association and other medical entities continue to emphasize that consumers need to read more labels and take more care with our food choices, limit intake of processed foods and sugar-any sugar-and restrict full-calorie carbonated soft drinks as much as possible instead of using them to substitute for healthier options, especially where children are concerned. Associations, hospitals and other health-related organizations are conveying the fact that we should eat more whole foods, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
We’ll be far better off if we make this huge effort, but so far, it’s more of a challenge to actually accomplish than it sounds.