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High Fructose Corn Syrup vs. Sugar

The Corn Refiners Association would like us to believe that ingesting high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is as natural for the body as eating an ear of corn. They even snail-mailed me a whole package filled with convincingly-assembled literature after I wrote a post critical of HFCS, not to mention their slick television campaign showing teenagers drinking sodas and talking about how “natural” HFCS is.

Luckily, we, the purchasing public, are not so easily fooled.

High fructose corn syrup is the result of a highly complex chemical process conducted in a laboratory — this stuff does not occur naturally on our planet, it has to be synthesized. Just knowing this should be setting off warning bells.

If you read Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, you know that we overproduce corn in this country, and in an effort to help our farmers add value to the US corn crop the University of Iowa developed a host of corn byproducts, including HFCS.

A sample of products made with high fructose corn syrup
A sample of products made with high fructose corn syrup

HFCS exploded on the market in the early 1980s because it was cheaper than sugar and had a longer shelf-life. Coincidentally, the obesity epidemic in this country really began to build around this time (it really exploded in the 1990s). In the last twenty years, HFCS has captured 56% of the sweetener marketplace. Hmmmm…. Could there be a connection?

There have been enough complaints stirred up about high fructose corn syrup in products that some companies are responding to customer demand by switching to real cane or beet sugar, including Snapple, Ocean Spray, Log Cabin Syrup, and some Pepsi products.

Is it better to ingest products made with sugar than those made with HFCS? In a word: Yes.

And no.

While sugar will be metabolized much better than HFCS, it can still carry a glycemic load and can spike blood sugar levels and then send you crashing down afterward. The most preferable way to eat sugar is to have sweet things following a healthy meal, when the stomach has other foods in it to buffer the digestion. The least perferable way to eat sugar is on an empty stomach.

Most unfortunately, I did see recently that soon all of the sugar beets in this country will be genetically modified beets. Sigh.

When I purchase sugar to use at home, I choose raw, unbleached, organic cane sugar.

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