High Fructose Corn Syrup

This was a short paper I wrote as an assignment in my Nutrition class this week…

There is such controversy over the use of high fructose corn syrup in our diets that the FDA was recently petitioned to change the name of high fructose corn syrup in what was considered by many a thinly veiled attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the average American consumer. A cursory glance at the website Sweet Surprise.com seems to back up the claims made by the petitioners that high fructose corn syrup is indeed a “natural” product. However upon doing a bit more research, the issue becomes murkier and questions arise as to the credibility of said website. The website is published by the Corn Refiners Association. The CRA consists of such members as Cargill whose primary interest is in marketing HFCS to the public which raises serious questions about the credibility of the website. Still the website does a lot of “name dropping” and seems to cite many credible experts who back up that claim. My research leads me to believe that the website is being deliberately misleading consumers by, not publishing the latest research, omitting information, and using misleading statistics.

Many of the claims made on the Sweet Surprise website center around the fact that there is “no difference” between the way the body metabolizes high fructose corn syrup(HCFS) and sucrose. For example, Dr. Susan Mitchell is quoted as saying, “Because HFCS is comprised of approximately equal ratios of glucose and fructose just like sugar (sucrose) and honey. It is purified from corn with no artificial ingredients as sugar is derived from sugar cane and sugar beets.” (Experts are Saying). Recent studies by prominent universities, seem to rebuke that claim According to an article published by Princeton University which summarized two studies conducted by Princeton researchers, there are indeed differences in how the body metabolizes the two sweeteners. While both are comprised of fructose and glucose, there is a difference in ratio of simple sugars. Sucrose contains 50% glucose and 50% fructose bound together. High fructose corn syrup is comprised of 55% fructose and 42% glucose and 3 % higher saccharides. The study goes on to explain that the fructose molecules in HFCS are not bound to a glucose molecule and consequently are not metabolized in the same way as those found in sucrose. (Parker). The results of the studies led researches to state that “findings lend support to the theory that the excessive consumption of high-fructose corn syrup found in many beverages may be an important factor in the obesity epidemic”. Researchers theorize that this “may relate to the fact that excess fructose is being metabolized to produce fat, while glucose is largely being processed for energy or stored as a carbohydrate, called glycogen, in the liver and muscles.” (Parker) A 2010 study by Duke University raises additional concerns about the differences between fructose and sucrose. Dr. Manal Abdelmalek, MD, MPH, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology/Hepatology at Duke University Medical Center summarized the findings by saying, “increased consumption of fructose containing beverages – of which at least three-quarters contained high fructose corn syrup – was associated with scarring in the liver, or fibrosis, among patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease” (Duke Medicine).

Other reports take Dr. Mitchell’s statement above to task as well. A report published in 2009 by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy stated that they, “detected mercury in nearly one in three of the 55 HFCS-containing food products we tested.” A similar test conducted by the online journal Environmental Health reported that “mercury was found in 9 of 20 samples of commercial high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)” (David Wallinga). While these claims hardly comprise a scientific study, the results are concerning. The CRA commissioned a couple of researchers to refute the claim and they came up with the fact that there was no “quantifiable” amount of mercury in HFCS. To my mind this sort of thing is confusing double speak. There either is or there isn’t mercury and if there is I will avoid it no matter how small an amount.

It was interesting that most of the claims made by experts on the website were made previous to these studies. One wonders if the researchers maintain those same positions in light of these new studies. The website attempts to address the issue by publishing a link to an Op-ed written for the LA Times by someone whose credentials aren’t even mentioned and several statements debunking the studies by CRA executives but there doesn’t seem to be much science backing up their claims. It seems to me that if they really want to prove that these studies are wrong, they should hire independent scientists to duplicate and rebuke the studies rather than hire PR people.

No reference is made to any of the more recent studies on the website nor is it mentioned on what studies the “experts” in question base the information provided on the website. I am not sure that they were even statements written for the website. They appear to be cut-and-pasted from various articles. The website does not cite any independent studies done which back up its claims.

One of the more incongruous statistics on the website mentions the amount of bran cereal one would need to eat to reach the Institute of Medicine’s recommended daily amount of sugar which is all well and good, now tell me how many sodas one would have to drink. I think that is far more in keeping with the average American’s dietary habits.

According to the Princeton article, the average American consumes 60 pounds of HFCS a year which is in part because it is an ingredient in so many foods. While I tend to believe that all things are okay in moderation, I personally don’t feel comfortable with any consumption given the information above. That can be a huge problem because HFCS is almost all processed foods. I’ve discovered this over the years as I have a corn allergy and can’t eat the stuff because it triggers my eczema. Still it can be done and lately, more manufacturers seem to be dropping the ingredient off their labels entirely.

Moderating sugar intake is still very important and I don’t mean to say that if you eat more natural forms of sugar that you should even come close to eating even as much is allowed by various recommendations. But as there are less controversial forms of sugar available, it only makes sense to make the safer choice.

Works Cited

“Experts are Saying.” Sweet Surprise. 28 September 2010 <http://www.sweetsurprise.com/sites/default/files/expertsaresaying_0.pdf&gt;.

Gross A. Eating Mercury. E – The Environmental Magazine [serial on the Internet]. (2009, May), [cited September 28 (David Wallinga), 2010]; 20(3): 19. Available from: MasterFILE Premier.

Medicine, Duke. “Fructose Containing Beverages Linked to Liver Scarring.” 18 March 2010. Duke Health.org. 29 September 2010 <http://www.dukehealth.org/health_library/news/fructose_containing_beverages_linked_to_liver_scarring&gt;.

Parker, Hilary. “News at Princeton.” 22 March 2010. Princeton University. 28 September 20101 <http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S26/91/22K07/&gt;.

Wallinga, David M.D. Not So Sweet: Missing Mercury and High Fructose Corn Syrup. Minnieapolis: Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, 2009.

Published by Stephany Riley Hoffelt

If you want to read more about me, it's on the website www.domestic-medicine.com

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