Filed Under: Big Fat Lies Food Scares

Finally Fact Checking the Claims Against Corn Sugar

Professional busybodies have spent years wringing their hands over high fructose corn syrup, that “everywhere” sugar used to sweeten many foods. An intense fear-mongering campaign sought to tie high fructose corn syrup to obesity and other health problems. But there’s one catch: High fructose corn syrup is nutritionally equivalent to ordinary sugar. Today the Cleveland Plain Dealer did some actual due diligence and exposed the biggest myths about high fructose corn syrup by—get this—actually talking to expert after expert. The result was a balanced piece of reporting that defended nutritional reality and attacked sticky pseudoscience.

Some of those experts are often the defenders of the food hysteria brigade. Nutritionist Marion Nestle points out that there’s no credible science supporting the charges against high fructose corn syrup. Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says, “There’s no nutritional difference between it and table sugar.” When even CSPI won’t sign onto your anti-ingredient crusade, it’s time to pack up and go home.

We’ve noted before that there’s a lot of confusion between “fructose” and “high fructose corn syrup.” As cardiologist Dr. James Rippe points out, “The studies that theory is based on were based on the ingestion of fructose only. And high-fructose corn syrup is made up of both glucose and fructose, just as table sugar is.” In fact, the two are almost exactly identical. Table sugar consists of 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose, while high fructose corn syrup is approximately 55 percent fructose and 42 percent glucose.

Igniting the high fructose corn syrup scare was a 2004 study co-authored by University of North Carolina professor Barry Popkin, which linked increased consumption of high fructose corn syrup to increased obesity rates. What’s Popkin saying these days? The Plain Dealer reports (emphasis added):

Now even Popkin has pulled back. In an e-mail he said, “We speculated, based on science, that the pathway [between HFCS and obesity] might be important and we challenged scholars to study the topic. We now realize that it is any type of caloric sweetener in a beverage that is strongly associated with obesity and diabetes in the U.S.

“What happened was that the bloggers took over and made HFCS a horror product.”

Credit goes to Popkin and all the other academics who have resisted the anti-high fructose corn syrup craze. As Dr. Rippe observes, “This whole controversy about high-fructose corn syrup exists [online] in an un-refereed medium where people are very emotional.”

For once, perhaps emotion is losing some ground to the truth.

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