The next time you order a hot dog at the ballgame, you might want to ask the vendor to hold the politics. No, really: Ketchup, of all things, is the latest symbol of a national food fight in America.
How? The proof is in the condiment.
Hunt's ketchup recently decided to shake things up by switching sweeteners. Instead of using high fructose corn syrup, a type of sugar made from corn, Hunt's will now use processed sugar from sugarcane or beets. But Hunt's is playing catch-up; its top competitor Heinz has already beaten Hunt's to the punch: "America's Favorite Ketchup" released a high fructose corn syrup-free variety in March.
Unfortunately, both brands have jumped on the latest food fad. They're more concerned about the company's bottom line than making changes that will promote healthier lives.
That's right – switching from high fructose corn syrup to processed sugar won't change the nutritional value of their products one drop. Hunt's has admitted as much, saying the sweetener swap was in "response to consumer demand" and apparently not based on science.
And it's similarly telling that Heinz labels its corn sugar-free variety of ketchup as a "lifestyle-driven" product.
The corn-based sweetener has been demonized by a small cadre of food activists and blamed for obesity to the point where the false image has stuck in the minds of consumers.
Despite the public's misconceptions, the science is clear: There appears to be no difference in how our bodies absorb the two sugars. This is a view held by the American Medical Association. One of the original speculators of the idea that high fructose corn syrup might uniquely contribute to obesity, UNC professor Barry Popkin, has since said his theory was wrong.
The American Dietetic Association, which represents 70,000 food and nutrition experts, says that "high fructose corn syrup … is nutritionally equivalent to sucrose." (Sucrose being the refined white sugar we use in coffee, homemade cookies, and now ketchup.)
High fructose corn syrup is simply a sugar made from corn.
In other words, a dollop of the "new" Hunt's will be just like the old variety. Same old ketchup, brand new bottle.
It's worth noting that ketchup makers aren't trailblazers in the high fructose corn syrup-free arena. In fact, they are both playing catch-up. Starbucks pulled the same stunt last summer with its baked goods. And 41 soft drinks or energy drinks were released last year without corn sugar, according to the market research firm Mintel International Group.
As you might expect, companies that make processed sugar have tried to extend the shelf life of this misinformation campaign by claiming their products are "all natural" in contrast to the industrial-sounding high fructose corn syrup. In fact, Hunt's "new" ketchup is touted as "100% Natural." But table sugar is processed – it's not as though sugar cubes grow on trees.
So the next time you reach for your "all natural" ketchup, don't be fooled. You're eating a PR campaign, not a healthier condiment.