Sure, let's call HFCS what it really is - by Michael Prager

Michael Prager, the author of “Fat Boy Thin Man,” blogs about food politics at
Mar 4, 2011 9:38 AM ET
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Sure, let's call HFCS what it really is


From Marion Nestle, I learned this week that the FDA is taking comments through this week on the Corn Refiners Association request to change the name of high fructose corn syrup to corn sugar.

Previously, she says, she didn't oppose the move, on the grounds that it didn't matter, except, of course to the corn refiners, since HFCS has come under suspicion as a particular cause of the nation's obesity crisis, and some bottlers have taken to using  — and touting — "real sugar," which is a back-handed slap at HFCS. Now Nestle has changed her mind, for reasons I don't quite understand, even though she reprinted the entirety of her public comment to the FDA on her blog. 

So many issues come up in this discussion. More important than what it's called is whether HFCS, a sweetener refined from corn, really is more harmful than "real" sugar, which is refined from beets, sugar cane, or some other plant. That has been a subject of intense debate among scientists, including University of North Carolina researcher Dr. Barry Popkin, who began in that camp but has since changed his position.

(An aside: Yet another question is whether it is all fructose, not just HFCS, that is a bane to our health, as maintained by University of Colorado researcher Dr. Richard Johnson, author of the convincing book "The Sugar Fix.")

The corn refiners want to change the name because HFCS has been villainized, in part by people who observe, correctly, that its formulation by Japanese chemists in the 1970s coincided with the explosion of obesity in America. But to me, that's an example of "good observation, wrong conclusion." We should blame not chemistry but economics: Because government agriculture policy makes corn in all its forms is artificially cheap, food processors could afford to add sweetener far more liberally than had been economical, and it began appearing in a broad range of un-sweet products, such as salad dressings, ketchup, lunch meats, bread, etc.


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