We’ve debunked plenty of silly food myths here, but perhaps the stickiest fable (especially in the Internet Age) is the idea that high fructose corn syrup is worse than other sugars. In reality, high fructose corn syrup is essentially the same as the processed sugar in our pantries (it just comes from corn instead of cane or beets). But despite the truth about these doppelgänger sugars, there’s a campaign, hackishly advanced by some celebrity doctors, that tells consumers to avoid corn sugar. So what’s wrong with the whole ditch-high-fructose-corn-syrup shtick, in a nutshell? Meet “Exhibit A,” a recent post by a blogger called “Charity”:
One of the dietary changes I’ve been trying to make for all of us here at the house is a lessening in the amount of HFCS or high fructose corn syrup that we seem to be constantly consuming. Tonight our supper was HFCS free. We had hot dogs with buns, steak fries fried in natural blend oil from Crisco, Hunt’s 100% Natural Ketchup, Miracle Whip, and Kool-Aid. None of our items that we ate tonight had HFCS in them and none of them tasted badly despite not having the HFCS in them.
Hmmm, let’s see…hot dogs, steak fries, oil, ketchup, a sugary beverage, and pseudo-mayo. Not exactly part of the Mr. Universe meal plan, no? This blogger is so caught up in avoiding one ingredient that she’s missed the bigger picture—her whole dinner. A single hot dog has more than tenfold the number of calories than what comes from the high fructose corn syrup in a serving of ketchup.
And because high fructose corn syrup has the same number of calories as so-called “natural” sugar, selecting products that use cane or beet sugar instead aren’t going to be any healthier nutritionally. (Ironically, the new ketchup without high fructose corn syrup that the blogger touts has slightly more calories per tablespoon than the recipe that uses high fructose corn syrup.) And accounting for matters of taste, high fructose corn syrup and refined sugar are the same—they’re nearly chemically indistinguishable, after all. (Both are roughly half fructose, half glucose.)
Here’s a novel idea: Instead of hyperventilating over high fructose corn syrup, let’s focus on eating a balanced diet that has an appropriate amount of sugar (of all kinds). It’s much healthier for us than drinking the Kool-Aid.