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Sugar is sugar is sugar

Posted Sep 22 2010 1:36pm

The words “high-fructose corn syrup” have come to mean something unhealthy in the minds of most consumers, and food makers have responded by replacing the HFCS in their products with “real sugar.”  Most Americans are right to avoid HFCS, but not because it is uniquely unhealthy.  Despite what some people have been led to believe by inaccurate media fervor, HFCS is not chemically much different than table sugar (made from cane or beets), and there is no concrete scientific evidence that HFCS, chemically, induces obesity-related side effects any more than regular table sugar.

There is still a problem with HFCS, however — it’s ubiquity.  It has become an addditive in so many American foods that Americans consume more of it than any other sugar source.  So while HFCS is not chemically any different than table sugar, it is much different than all other sugars in terms of the amounts consumed by Americans each year.

Recently, the Corn Refiners Association petitioned the FDA to begin renaming high fructose corn syrup (HCFS) as “corn sugar,” a move clearly meant to help defray some of the bad PR this sweetener has suffered in the last few years.  And many food writers have called the Corn Refiners Association out for this, decrying HFCS as a contributer to the obesity problem in this country.  As a food additive that Americans consume in excess and that therefore contributes to the excess of calories and sugar grams in our food supply, yes, HFCS is contributing to obesity.  But food writers still perpetuate the mistaken notion that HFCS is somehow chemically more dangerous than table sugar, even though both are similar in the ratio of fructose to glucose they contain.  Food writers need to get it right — I have no problem with the vilification of HFCS, but let’s do it for the correct reasons and stop misinforming an American public that is already confused about food choices.

A few food writers have already taken up this cause and really are getting it right, noting that HFCS is problematic for its abundance, cheapness, and subsidized history.  Here’s an article that does just that .  I only wish this kind of piece was in a more widely distributed news source.  Sugar in all forms are bad for us when overeaten or abused, whether we call them “natural” (another word that means nothing on food packaging) sugars or not.  Besides, what’s so “natural” about mechanically pressing sugar out of a cane plant or a beet?  Let’s stop looking for a magic bullet and admit that the poison is our unwillingness to cook whole real foods.


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