“High fructose corn syrup is one of the most misunderstood products in the food supply,” said Harvard’s David Ludwig last night on NBC Nightly News. That’s because sugar is sugar, whether it’s made from beets, cane, or corn. All are nearly identical in molecular composition, and exactly equal in sweetness and calorie content. As Marion Nestle (along with other food cops) admits, “The body can hardly tell them apart." Yet crafty marketers have been perpetuating the myth that some sweeteners are healthier than others. How do they pull it off?
In part by confusing pure fructose with high fructose corn syrup. Sucrose (table sugar) is made of equal parts glucose and fructose. High fructose corn syrup, on the other hand, has the word “fructose” in its name, so some consumers assume it’s super-concentrated with fructose. Not so.
High fructose corn syrup contains either 42 or 55 percent fructose. (The rest is, like table sugar, plain old glucose.) Which means that some high fructose corn syrup — the 42-percent variety — actually has less fructose in it than table sugar.
Not that fructose is a legitimate dietary demon in the first place. Sugar is sugar is sugar. But many consumers are happily deceived into thinking that some sweeteners are superior to others.
In the Journal of Nutrition today, biochemist John S. White writes:
Inaccurate information from ostensibly reliable sources and selective presentation of research data gathered under extreme experimental conditions, representing neither the human diet nor HFCS, have misled the uninformed and created an atmosphere of distrust and avoidance for what, by all rights, should be considered a safe and innocuous sweetener … HFCS does not pose a unique dietary risk in healthy individuals or diabetics.
Today, The New York Times recounts Dr. White’s conclusion that a recent University of California-Davis study demonizing fructose in general “did not test high-fructose corn syrup … and judgments should not be made about it from the findings.”
But judgments about high fructose corn syrup likely will be made anyway. Why? Because as this New York Times headline implies, demonizing high fructose corn syrup can do wonders for a sugar marketer’s bottom line.
But smart marketing doesn’t change the facts: You won’t be any healthier switching from high fructose corn syrup to table sugar. Or honey. Or agave nectar. Or molasses. You get the picture.