High fructose corn syrup is in the news, as the Corn Refiners Association wants to change the name of the product to “corn syrup,” a name that defines the product’s ingredients for the general public. At the same time, advocates against HFCS continue to generate claims that HFCS creates all manners of health problems for people who ingest this product. The following list of 20 myths and facts about HFCS offers some reality about using this type of sweetener.
It is important to remember that HFCS is a sweetener, and sweeteners and sugars such as sucrose, agave syrup, honey and sugar substitutes all could be dangerous for diabetics, and they all can produce other health problems for some individuals, especially if over-consumed. A diet rich in fresh vegetables and fruits, along with water (rather than a soda or commercial juice, which may be filled with sugars) often is the healthiest way to eat for many people. Just to be clear, for a diet of 2500 calories per day, an individual should consume less than three tablespoons of honey, maple syrup or dehydrated cane sugar juice, or — simply — several pieces of fruit.
- Myth: HFCS is less healthy than sugar.
Table sugar and HFCS are almost identical in composition. Both contain approximately 50 percent glucose and 50 percent fructose. Both have about the same number of calories as most carbohydrates — four calories per gram. Five papers found that there was no evidence to suggest high fructose corn syrup is any different from table sugar.
- Myth: HFCS causes obesity.
Obesity often results from an imbalance of calories consumed and calories burned. Obesity rates are rising around the world, including in Mexico, Australia and Europe, even though the use of HFCS outside of the United States is limited.
- Myth: HFCS is man-made and not natural.
High fructose corn syrup contains no artificial or synthetic ingredients or color additives and meets the FDA’s requirements for use of the term “natural.” Additionally, the enzymes used to process corn syrup into HFCS are not included in the final product.
- Myth: HFCS is sweeter than sugar.
High fructose corn syrup was developed to provide the same sweetness as sugar so that consumers would not notice a difference in sweetness or taste. HFCS-55, which is commonly used in soft drinks, is composed of 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose. Food producers also use HFCS-45, which is less sweet than sugar and HFCS-55 in many baked goods, jams and jellies, and cereals. HFCS-45 contains 45 percent fructose and 55 percent glucose.
- Myth: HFCS is high in fructose.
Contrary to its name, HFCS is not high in fructose (see #4). The composition of high fructose corn syrup is essentially ‘half fructose corn syrup,’ which is similar to sucrose, or table sugar.
- Myth: Studies conducted with pure fructose can be applied to HFCS.
Pure fructose is as different from HFCS as it is from table sugar or honey. Studies comparing high fructose corn syrup to sugar found no differences between the two sweeteners (see myth #7).
- Myth: HFCS has higher fructose concentrations than table sugar.
According to the Corn Refiners Association’s Web site on HFCS, HFCS is safe and affordable and does not have a high fructose level when compared to table sugar, honey or fruit juice concentrates.
- Myth: HFCS is addictive.
Some people can become addicted to sweets in general. Once again, the debate rests on science rather than on emotion, showing that HFCS is no different in composition nor in the ability to metabolize than sucrose.
- Myth: Consumers don’t know why HFCS is found in many foods and beverages.
HFCS was first introduced to the food and beverage industry in the 1970s as a home-grown alternative to the sugar industry in the U.S., as it was produced from subsidized corn and is cheaper to use than sucrose.
- Myth: HFCS contains DNA from genetically modified corn.
The corn used to produce high fructose corn syrup may or may not have been produced using genetically modified (GM) corn. This is one debatable myth, as people who want to avoid GMs or GMOs may want to avoid HFCS.
- Myth: High fructose corn syrup contains traces of mercury that present a unique health risk to Americans.
The mercury-in-corn-syrup myth stems from a flawed 2009 study by the Minnesota-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP). The group found minute traces of mercury in 17 out of 55 grocery items that contained HFCS, but they did not run mercury tests on any grocery products that did not contain HFCS for comparison.
- Myth: Drinking high-fructose corn syrup increases your triglyceride levels and your LDL cholesterol. These effects only occurred in the study participants who drank fructose — not glucose.
Regular corn syrup is all glucose (or dextrose) syrup — glucose being a carbohydrate. It’s a common misconception that — because of its name — high fructose corn syrup is composed largely or entirely of fructose. It is not (see #20).
- Myth: The per capita consumption HFCS far outweights the consumption of sugar.
The USDA estimates 2008 per capita HFCS consumption equaled 11.2 calories per day, and 10.6 calories per day in 2009. U.S. per capita consumption of sugar continues to exceed that of HFCS, with estimates of 13.8 calories per day in 2008 compared to 13.4 calories per day in 2009.
- Myth: HFCS has only adverse metabolic affects and empty calories.
The 2009 data in one review suggests that HFCS yields similar metabolic responses to other caloric sweeteners such as sucrose.
- Drinking calories in the form of sodas containing HFCS can limit control over consumption.
No credible research has demonstrated that HFCS affects calorie control differently than sugar. A recent study by Pablo Monsivais, et al. at the University of Washington found that beverages sweetened with sugar, HFCS, as well as 1-percent milk, all have similar effects on feelings of fullness.
- Drinking one soda per day on average almost doubles the risk of diabetes compared to only consuming an occasional soda or none at all.
Diabetes cannot be blamed on a sole ingredient or component of the American diet. Diet soda, with or without HFCS, can cause a variety of problems in some individuals because of overall contents, including phosphoric acid.
- People are developing allergies to the corn in HFCS.
Corn is not a significant allergen, according to the FDA. Additionally, nearly all of the corn protein is removed during HFCS production.
- Myth: Agave nectar syrup is better for you than HFCS.
Agave nectar syrup consists of 90 percent fructose to 10 percent glucose, a ratio that does not occur naturally. Additionally, the agave sap is hydrolyzed so the complex fructosans are broken down to make the agave sweet. Ironically, in some cases, agave nectar may be watered down with HFCS to reduce manufacturing costs.
- Myth: HFCS in foods is a corporate and/or government ploy to deceive Americans.
The FDA constantly reminds consumers about recalls. If the FDA is involved with recalls, then why would the government try to deceive consumers? Take responsibility for your own health and eat nutritious, healthy foods. If you eat with health in mind, you’ll rarely encounter HFCS in your fresh vegetables and fruits.
- Myth: Corn Refiners Association wants to change the name of HFCS to Corn Sugar to fool people about the abundance of HFCS in foods.
The name change is supposed to stop consumer confusion over the fact that HFCS is not a high-fructose sweetener.