It’s official: Sweetener switch-ups are this summer’s most popular food fad. Since Starbucks first pushed that bandwagon forward a few weeks ago, labels advertising their contents as free of high fructose corn syrup have been all the rage among gimmick-prone shoppers. But the Chicago Tribune did sweetener fashion victims a favor yesterday by offering readers a spoonful of (gasp!) science. Contrary to what many labels have been implying lately, there is no proven health benefit to choosing table sugar over its corn-derived competitor.
When Marion Nestle, Michael Jacobson, and other notoriously picky eaters call sugar marketers on their bluff, you know there must be something bitter behind high fructose corn syrup smears. As leading nutrition experts and even drink company representatives told the Tribune, it’s a marketing ploy.
Walter Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at Harvard University’s School of Public Health and author of "Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy," called the recent spate of product reformulations away from high-fructose corn syrup a "marketing distraction."
Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc. Chief Operating Officer Ken Romanzi did not disagree. Even though there is no proof that high-fructose corn syrup is more harmful than sugar, Romanzi said the maker of juices and other products "didn’t want any negative implication that there was something bad for people in our Ocean Spray products.”…
"The problem," Romanzi said, "is that perception is reality in the minds of consumers."
United Press International took note this week also: The claim that beet sugar is healthier than high fructose corn syrup can’t stand up to scientific scrutiny.
So what is true about table sugar and high fructose corn syrup? Chemically, they’re almost identical. Table sugar is made of a half-and-half recipe of fructose and glucose. “High” fructose corn syrup, on the other hand, contains either 42 or 55 percent fructose – which means that some varieties of the corn sweetener are actually lower in fructose than table sugar.
As we argued in an East Valley Tribune op-ed this week, smart marketing doesn’t change the facts. You won’t be any healthier by banning high fructose corn syrup from your diet – no matter what kind of sweet nothings your local barista whispers in your ear.