Just “Say No” to Bogus Health Tips

There’s a lot of spurious scaremongering being passed around as fact (see CSPI), but sometimes one claim really sticks out. That’s the case with a health column in yesterday’s Star Tribune, in which readers are advised to “say no” to high fructose corn syrup. Why? Because of research claiming that fructose is linked to negative health effects.

But this advice falls victim to the common mix-up between high fructose corn syrup and pure fructose. High fructose corn syrup, despite the name, is not pure fructose and is not even “high” in fructose.

Widely used to sweeten foods and beverages, high fructose corn syrup generally contains either 42 or 55 percent fructose. The rest is glucose. Table sugar, on the other hand, is a 50-50 mix of fructose and glucose. Which means that some high fructose corn syrup – the 42-percent variety – actually has less fructose in it than table sugar. But because of its name, high fructose corn syrup gets unfairly associated with studies of fructose.

However, these studies purporting to show negative health effects of fructose were conducted using pure fructose, not high fructose corn syrup. As The New York Times related, biochemist John S. White noted that researchers in one recent University of California-Davis study demonizing fructose “did not test high-fructose corn syrup … and judgments should not be made about it from the findings.”

More and more professional groups are clarifying the fact that high fructose corn syrup is no different than table sugar. The American Dietetic Association—which boasts a membership of about 50,000 dietitians—stated in December 2008 that “high fructose corn syrup…is nutritionally equivalent to sucrose [table sugar]. Once absorbed into the blood stream, the two sweeteners are indistinguishable.” And the American Medical Association likewise agrees that the two sweeteners are processed by the body similarly.

Sugar is sugar (a point we make clear in our ads). One day soon, hopefully, the trendy health columnists will get the message. Until then, it’d be wise to take their sugar advice with a grain of salt.

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