You’ve probably seen the negative headlines about high fructose corn syrup. Have you ever wondered if the media hype is true? Let us dispel some of the HFCS myths. Here are some of the most common inaccurate statements about this misunderstood sweetener along with the actual reality.
Myth: Sugar is healthier than high fructose corn syrup.
Reality: Afraid not. High fructose corn syrup is basically the same as sugar—both in terms of composition and in the number of calories they contain. Since high fructose corn syrup and sugar are so similar, the human body absorbs them the same way.
Myth: High fructose corn syrup is to blame for obesity and diabetes.
Reality: Nope. There is no scientific evidence that high fructose corn syrup is to blame for obesity and diabetes. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture data shows that consumption of high fructose corn syrup has actually been declining while obesity and diabetes rates continued to rise (see chart). Around the world, obesity levels are also rising even though HFCS consumption is limited outside of the U.S. Many other factors contribute to rising obesity levels including changes in lifestyle, diet and exercise and are unrelated to HFCS.
“High fructose corn syrup is one of the most misunderstood products in the food supply.”
David S. Ludwig, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School. NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, April 22, 2009
Myth: High fructose corn syrup is not natural.
Reality: Wrong again. High fructose corn syrup is made from corn, a natural grain product and is a natural sweetener. High fructose corn syrup contains no artificial or synthetic ingredients or color additives. It also meets the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s requirements for use of the term “natural.”
Myth: High fructose corn syrup is sweeter than sugar.
Reality: Sorry, no. High fructose corn syrup and sugar have almost the same level of sweetness. HFCS was made to provide the same sweetness as sugar so that consumers would not notice a difference in sweetness or taste. In fact, the type of HFCS commonly used in foods is actually less sweet than sugar.
Myth: High fructose corn syrup is high in fructose.
Reality: Oddly enough, it’s not. Contrary to its name, high fructose corn syrup is not high in fructose. It has levels of fructose to create a similar composition to sugar. It has either 42% or 55% fructose, which is comparable to sugar with 50% fructose.
Myth: Studies conducted with pure fructose can be applied to high fructose corn syrup.
Reality: That is not scientifically feasible. Pure fructose and its effect on the body are extremely different from that of high fructose corn syrup. Most studies conducted with pure fructose have been performed with abnormally high levels of fructose which do not occur naturally in our diet. Fructose and glucose are always consumed in combination, with glucose acting as a moderator to fructose. By analyzing fructose independently, the studies are not representative of normal diets and cannot be applied to high fructose corn syrup which contains both fructose and glucose.
Myth: High fructose corn syrup is metabolized differently and blocks the body’s ability to know when it is full.
Reality: Untrue. In fact, multiple studies have shown that high fructose corn syrup has similar effects on feelings of fullness as sugar and 1% milk. This includes research done by the University of Washington, Maastricht University in the Netherlands, University of Toronto and University of Rhode Island. All of these studies found no differences in the metabolic effects of high fructose corn syrup as compared to sugar.
Myth: High fructose corn syrup contains DNA from genetically modified corn.
Reality: Nope. While the corn used to produce high fructose corn syrup may have been produced using genetically modified corn, existing research indicates that corn DNA cannot be detected in measurable amounts in high fructose corn syrup.
Myths: High fructose corn syrup is banned in the European Union.
Reality: It’s not. In 1977, the EU employed national production quotas to protect domestic sugar producers by limiting the supply of competitive sweeteners including high fructose syrup. The goal of the EU sugar policy regime is to regulate competition afforded by other sweeteners, not to specifically ban the use of HFCS.
Myth: High fructose corn syrup is subsidized.
Reality: Wrong. Manufacturers of high fructose corn syrup do not receive government subsidies. Contrary to what you may have heard, high fructose corn syrup is not a protected commodity. Rather, it is subject to all of the highs and lows of marketplace supply and demand. The corn used to make high fructose corn syrup is purchased on the open market and is subject to trade activity at the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT). The only caloric sweeteners that benefit directly from government support programs in the United States are sugar and honey. While the U.S. Department of Agriculture does not regulate high fructose corn syrup prices or control supply, the Farm Bill provides a safety net to certain corn farmers in the United States if the crop price falls below certain levels. This supports corn growers, not corn refiners. Refiners of these commodities do not receive any government support.