Saturday, August 15, 2009

Just semantics?

Myth 3: High-fructose corn syrup causes weight gain.

Facts: Not so, say several studies. High-fructose corn syrup is not sweeter than sugar, and it doesn't trick you into eating more calorie-rich foods. Last year the AMA said, "There is no proof that high-fructose corn syrup causes obesity."

We should limit our sugar intake to 32 grams or about 7 teaspoons per day for all sugary rich foods and beverages, including high-fructose corn syrup, granulated sugar and brown sugar.

According to this Tampa Tribune article, it is simply a myth that HFCS causes obesity. As you may note, they cite the American Medical Association as the authority backing this statement. According to the AMA: "There is no proof that high-fructose corn syrup causes obesity." What i find interesting about that statement is the specific wording. The word "cause" in this sense implies that HFCS exists, it is consumed and if obesity results it is not the fault of HFCS. The agency may be an issue? Or is the subtext that HFCS, while it may be a contributing factor, is not the sole cause of obesity. This statement from the AMA, cited also with great alacrity by the CRA (; gotta love that website name...) is not exactly a ringing endorsement of HFCS.

If you actually check the AMA's site for the source of this quote, you will find it contained in the "Report 3 of the Council on Science and Public Health (A-08) The Health Effects of High Fructose Syrup"

Here's what they actually said:
Conclusions. Because the composition of HFCS and sucrose are so similar, particularly on absorption by the body, it appears unlikely that HFCS contributes more to obesity or other conditions than sucrose.
Again, that's not really a ringing endorsement. They are saying that a diet high in sucrose is probably just as likely as a diet high in HFCS to lead to obesity. That's like saying: Because Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kreme are so similar in composition, it appears unlikely that Dunkin Donuts contributes more to obesity or other conditions than Krispy Kreme.

Moreover, they hit on a major issue where more research needs to be done: the adverse health effects of sweetners containing fructose "are not well established." Um why not? Fructose is not new. And a large percentage of the population (both in this country and Europe, perhaps elsewhere too) has trouble digesting it. And sucrose is not the same as fructose, neither in composition nor in the way the body digests it. And depending on which HFCS you're talking about, the content of fructose varies tremendously.

However, the adverse health effects of HFCS, beyond those of other caloric sweeteners, most of which contain fructose, are not well established. Consumption of added caloric sweeteners in general has increased over the last 30 years, as has total calories.

The following statements, recommended by the Council on Science and Public Health, were adopted by the AMA House of Delegates as AMA directives at the 2008 AMA Annual Meeting:

  1. lThe AMA recognizes that at the present time, insufficient evidence exists to specifically restrict use of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) or other fructose-containing sweeteners in the food supply or to require the use of warning labels on products containing HFCS. (Directive)
  2. The AMA encourages independent research (including epidemiological studies) on the health effects of HFCS and other sweeteners, and evaluation of the mechanism of action and relationship between fructose dose and response. (Directive)
  3. The AMA, in concert with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, recommends that consumers limit the amount of added caloric sweeteners in their diet. (Directive)

Just one more simple question: why does almost all processed food contain HFCS? Even things that aren't particularly sweet, such as bread and salad dressings and steak sauce. Many of them contain a higher quantity of HFCS than they ever contained of sugar (in the days prior to HFCS being ubiquitous). That means an increase in calories. And an increase in the average person's intake of fructose...

1 comment:

  1. This is a great analysis. The beverage industry and corn refining industry have been all too happy to cite the AMA's statement, and I hope more people realize what you have, that the AMA was basically saying HFCS is not more bad than regular sugar; the AMA did not state the HFCS is healthy to consume left and right.

    Thanks for your comment on the soda tax blog, too!