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The Sweetest Debate

Now more than ever, consumers want to know where their food comes from and how to easily read and understand terms on food ingredient labels. Accordingly, food labeling must be as simple and clear as possible.

That’s why the Corn Refiners Association recently petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asking that food and beverage manufacturers be given the option of using “corn sugar” as an alternate ingredient name to high fructose corn syrup on product labels.

The name high fructose corn syrup is misleading to consumers because it suggests that this ingredient is high in fructose, which translates for consumers as having more calories, sweetness, and fructose than table sugar does.

Independent research confirms the consumer confusion. In a recent survey, consumers were asked what name best describes a product with the following description:

This corn product may be used to sweeten processed foods and beverages and is nutritionally equivalent to sucrose (sugar). Both sugar and this product contain the same number of calories (4 per gram) and consist of about equal parts of fructose and glucose. Once absorbed into the bloodstream, the two products are indistinguishable.

The result? Nearly 70% of the respondents could not identify high fructose corn syrup as the best name for the product described. Additionally, nearly 60% of consumers in this same survey incorrectly believed that high fructose corn syrup has more calories than table sugar. However, the calorie content of these two sweeteners is exactly the same.

Many national health and nutrition experts agree that high fructose corn syrup and table sugar contain essentially equal ratios of the same two simple sugars and are handled the same by the body. For example, in a June 2008 news release, the American Medical Association said: “Because the composition of high fructose corn syrup and sucrose are so similar, it appears unlikely that high fructose corn syrup contributes more to obesity or other conditions than sucrose.”

And, in its December 2008 Hot Topics paper, the American Dietetic Association found that “once absorbed into the bloodstream, the two sweeteners are indistinguishable.”

The bottom line is this: A sugar is a sugar whether it comes from corn sugar or cane sugar.

As Americans look more closely at food labels, the term “corn sugar” succinctly and accurately describes what this natural ingredient is and where it comes from: corn.

Audrae Erickson
Corn Refiners Association

AMA report (pdf)

ADA Hot Topics report (pdf)

7 Responses

  1. Agree that the calorie values of HFCS and Sugar are the same. Body handles both sugars in the same way ?
    The chemical structure and the way HFCS and Sugar manufactured are quite different. Calling HFCS as Corn sugar might be confusing the consumers
    Can the HFCS be converted economically to match the structure of sugar. Just a thought

  2. Consumers for now will not be more receptive to corn syrup because the media will pick up the information that now HFCS is called corn syrup. Those consumers who are now concerned about HFCS will now be concerned about anything with corn syrup. It will back fire and make things worse.

  3. In an era where consumers already have little trust in food producers this name change is unlikely to help. Most consumer sites will report it as an attempt to decieve consumers. HFCS is the common and usual name, the desire to change the name isn’t to better inform consumers. The reason is to move away from the questions being raised about HFCS

  4. Consumers would definitely be more accepting of the sweetener if it was called “corn sugar.” “High fructose corn syrup” has aquired such negative connotations, people avoid it like the plague, so why not change the name in an attempt to get people to buy your product who might otherwise buy an alternative.

  5. I find it disappointing that the court of public opinion, which is presided over by the media, is leading people to erroneous conclusions. Corn sugar, table sugar, corn syrup or high fructose corn syrup is not the enemy. The US obesity crisis is caused by only 2 factors: Sedentary lifestyle and lack of moderation in consumption. Period.

  6. I agree with D. Park. Sedentary lifestyle and too much consumption are the causes of the problem. Consumers will understand better corn sugar, since they are used to cane sugar and beet sugar or even fruit sugar. HFCS is a technical definition that has nothing to do with how the nutrient works and is absorbed by the body.

  7. Changing the name of HFCS to corn sugar will infuriate the people who are trying to avoid it–and cause all ingredients from corn to be avoided. As a health teacher, I’m now teaching my students how to avoid corn in any form as an ingredient because of the deceptive practices of the corn refiners. That includes: HFCS as well as all corn syrups, high maltose corn syrups, dextrose, polyols, maltodextrins, glucose/corn syrup solids, carmel colors, and corn of any form. I’m advising them to avoid corn–even on the cob–if possible because of the deceptive practices of the corn industry and refiners (and genetic engineering). Avoiding all corn is almost impossible, but at least the information will be in their minds somewhere.

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