Last fall, the Corn Refiners Association – the trade group representing the makers of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) – petitioned the FDA to let them change the name of their product to “corn sugar.”
Okay. Yes, it’s made from corn, and it is a sugar. And just as table sugar – sucrose – is a blend of two other sugars, glucose and fructose, so, too, HFCS. Sucrose is a 50/50 mix, and HFCS is 40-some percent glucose and 50-some percent fructose.
So the proposed name is accurate. But it’s accuracy with spin.
As you probably know, HFCS – which is found in a mind-boggling number of processed foods – has an image problem. That’s why food manufacturers have been abandoning it for “real sugar” – the stuff they used before that cheaper sweetener came along. But now there’s less of a price differential, and more people are gravitating toward the “natural,” though “natural” is a meaningless claim on food labels. Hence, the return to “real sugar,” which, to many, tastes better, too. (Do your own taste test: Get Mexican Coke or other soda made with cane sugar and compare it to its mass market American equivalent. Taste the non-HFCS soda first. The difference will blow your mind.)
So the Corn Refiners have cried out, “We make sugar, too!”
Earlier this summer, a group of US senators got involved, asking the FDA to support the proposed name change. Unsurprisingly, its author – Sen. Charles Grassley – and all signers represent Corn Belt states. But this isn’t about making agribusiness happy. Oh, no. It’s to help consumers. Really.
Recent survey data conducted using guidelines put forth by the Office of Management and Budget indicates that 70 percent of Americans could not identify high fructose corn syrup when presented with the American Dietetic Association (ADA) definition for it. According to the same research, “corn sugar” is a better alternate name for high fructose com syrup. Consumers better understand its fructose level, calories, and sweetness, when the term “corn sugar” is substituted for high fructose corn syrup.
The name high fructose corn syrup can lead to confusion for consumers. The version used in many foods (HFCS 42) is actually the lowest fructose-containing sweetener on the market. However, 57.7 percent of American consumers believe it contains more fructose than sugar even though these two sweeteners contain comparable amounts. Both the American Medical Association and the ADA have determined that table sugar and high fructose corn syrup are
“More fructose than sugar”? Fructose is a sugar. That aside, yes, sugar is sugar. But we digress. Because this a little bit about jobs, too. And shopping.
In addition to clearing up consumer uncertainty about this ingredient, it is worthwhile to note the role that high fructose corn syrup plays in our nation’s food supply. This ingredient keeps foods affordable for American consumers and creates high-paying jobs here at home. It has contributed to greater food choices for consumers.
Jobs where? How many? And for whom? And affordable how – especially when 15% of the US population now relies on food stamps to feed their families, an increase of 74% over the past four years? But we digress.
Despite all the professed worry over confused consumers, the only thing a consumer really needs to know is that HFCS is a kind of sugar and that if you choose them, all sugar-sweetened foods should be eaten in moderation.
For the bottom line? We eat way too much of the stuff: 60 pounds of corn sweeteners and 60 pounds of table sugar per person, per year, according to nutritionist Marion Nestle, who is on record as opposing the name change. Why?
It is highly unlikely that public misunderstanding of nutritional biochemistry and the differential physiological effects of glucose vs. fructose will be addressed and corrected by changing the name of HFCS to corn sugar.
Therefore, the name change is not in the public interest. Its only purpose is to further the commercial interests of members of the Corn Refiners, and that is not one the FDA should be concerned about. [emphasis added]
Those were comments to the FDA back in February of this year, which she posted on her blog. And apparently, the agency is still accepting comments. So if you’d like to weigh in on the subject:
- Visit this page at regulations.gov.
- Scroll down for the heading “12 results for ‘FDA-2010-P-0491’ and find the title “Corn Refiners Association – Citizen Petition.
- Click on the right side link to “Submit a Comment” and follow the instructions on the next screen.
The moral of the story? Know your sugars and keep added sugars to a miniumum in your diet. Here are the main ones not explicitly called “sugar” or “sweetener” that you’ll see listed on ingredients labels today:
- Cane juice
- Corn syrup
- Fruit juice concentrate
- High fructose corn syrup
- Maple syrup
- Malt syrup
- Rice syrup
Too much to remember? Print the list and keep it in your wallet, so you’ll have it if you need it while grocery shopping.
Tanker image by tom.arthur, via Flickr