Filed Under: Food Scares

Sugar = Sugar

Big news in the food world this week: Producers of high fructose corn syrup, the sweetener that’s been a perennial punching bag for food activists, want to change its name to “corn sugar.” The Food and Drug Administration will consider a petition to do just that.

Good move? Absolutely. If cane and beet sugar can be called “sugar” on labels, why can’t high fructose corn syrup be called “corn sugar”? The other option would be to start calling cane sugar “high fructose cane sugar polysaccharide granules.” That doesn’t seem too appealing.

And the name change to “corn sugar,” if approved, will hopefully stem the ridiculous marketing ploys of Starbucks and other companies that have switched out corn sugar for table sugar.

We’ve pointed out that there’s no nutritional difference between high fructose corn syrup and “regular”—i.e. processed and refined—white sugar from beets or sugarcane. And we’re not alone. Even Michael Jacobson, who loves to hate food, thinks the new name is an improvement. The New York Times reported his belief that “the term ‘high-fructose corn syrup’ had misled many into thinking the sweetener was composed mainly of fructose, a simple sugar found in honey and fruit.”

And that’s the point that confused consumers have missed: Despite the “high fructose” in its name, high fructose corn syrup isn’t particularly “high” in fructose. It just has more fructose than regular corn syrup—either 42 or 55 percent. Refined table sugar, in contrast, is 50 percent fructose. (The remaining part in both is glucose.) That’s why the American Dietetic Association determined that “high fructose corn syrup … is nutritionally equivalent to sucrose [cane/beet sugar].”

One of the best comments we saw in reaction to the news came from a registered dietitian:

Surveys show that the majority of Americans do not understand what HFCS is, and they mistakenly believe foods and beverages sweetened with cane sugar are somehow better for them, which is not true. Both cane and corn sugars can be part of a nutritionally balanced and varied diet if used in moderation and there is absolutely no evidence to dispute that fact. Sadly, most people get neither the “balanced and varied” part right nor the “moderation.”

Let’s make sure that advice doesn’t get lost. Eat sugar in moderation—whichever kind you choose to eat, and whatever you prefer to call it.

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