Thursday, July 18, 2013
At the grocery store yesterday I saw cereal boxes proudly proclaiming to contain no high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). This is one of the current pariahs of the food police, who claim in various ways that it is making you fat and unhealthy. First, some facts.
First, food manufacturers have switched from sugar to HFCS to cut costs. But before you blame the big bad corporations, remember that the US price of sugar is about double the world price due to protectionist tariffs. It's not that HFCS is inherently cheaper to produce, quite the opposite. It's that the government has made table sugar artificially expensive.
Second, the "high" in high fructose corn syrup is relative to natural, "low fructose corn syrup" that you can find in some organic markets. Sugars, fruits, and syrups contain a blend of fructose and sucrose, but fructose supplies most of the sweet taste we crave. Table sugar is in fact about 50% fructose, HFCS typically 55% fructose. As such, claims that HFCS bypasses normal appetite control mechanisms is unfounded.
Third, while there are some differences in how fructose is metabolized vs sucrose, they are small, all but unmeasurable. Studies on animals showing unhealthy effects like liver damage use absurdly high doses, the equivalent of a human drinking 8 to 15 cans of soda a day. I think we can agree that is unhealthy no matter what, and that's the point.
Drinking Mexican Coke (sweetened with cane sugar) instead of regular Coca-Cola solves nothing. If fructose is truly a problem for you, it's because you're consuming way too much soda in general, regardless of the source. As internists and pharmacists remind us, "Dose and context! Dose and context!"
If HFCS still scares you, realize that cutting sugar in general is the only real answer and if you can do it without artificial sweeteners, so much the better.