Sugar, honey, high fructose corn syrup — it’s all calories.

fructose by any other name has the same calories

The recent attempt by corn producers to redefine high fructose corn syrup as “corn sugar” is under attack from the usual suspects:

  • the Food Police, who see a conspiracy to force a uniquely evil substance on an unsuspecting public
  • the cane and beet sugar producers, who see a conspiracy to undercut their sales.

What do I see?  Hysteria and misinformation coming from all directions.  Truly, high fructose corn syrup has gotten a very bad rap, blamed for causing the obesity epidemic (Wait!  I thought it was caused by school lunches.  Or McDonalds) because the fructose part of the sweetener somehow turns magically into fat as soon as it’s consumed.  That HFCS seems to be everywhere in food and beverages exacerbates the conspiracy theories.  The real problem is soft drinks, the most concentrated source of HFCS.  The calorie hit from guzzling all those simple sugars every day is bound to have adverse effects and cause weight gain in anyone not training for a marathon.  And it wouldn’t matter if the soft drinks were sweetened with more expensive cane sugar or really expensive honey.  Excess sugar calories are excess sugar calories.  Your metabolism turns them into fat if you don’t burn them up.

All sweeteners, except for pure glucose, contain fructose in some form.  Honey is about 60% fructose.  HFCS is typically 55%.  Cane sugar is sucrose, which is 50% fructose molecules.  So what’s the deal with fructose-phobia focused on corn syrup?  It’s everywhere, including in almost all fresh fruit and pure fruit juices.  And, given our very poor rates of fresh fruit consumption, it’s a real stretch to blame fructose in fruit for the obesity epidemic.  If anything, people in countries with higher fruit consumption are much thinner than in the US.

So if you’re going to be hysterical about HFCS, find a real reason.  Like taste.  The Mexican Coca Cola cult is a perfect example of this in action.  Mexican Coke is sweetened with cane sugar, and aficionados swear by the superior taste, seeking out local sources of Mexican Coke, which comes in retro glass bottles.  Just don’t pretend it’s healthier.  Mexico has a growing obesity problem, even without HFCS-sweetened Coke.

As for the corn sugar re-definition issue, hopefully consumers won’t be fooled by any food marketing ploy, even a name change.  There’s nothing particularly natural, or unnatural, about sugar from any particular source.  Sugar is sugar is sugar.  It’s calories, and if you eat too many, you’ll gain weight.  Calling HFCS “corn sugar” doesn’t change the calories.  Calling cane sugar “natural” doesn’t change the calories or make it healthier.   The best thing you can do about this controversy is not guzzle sugar-sweetened beverages, like soft drinks, every day.

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