Wednesday, January 20, 2010

When it comes to HFCS, are there varying degrees of "Natural"?

In the previous blog entry, i posted a recent comment from Audrae Erickson, President of the Corn Refiners Association.  This isn't the first time I have posted comments and/or excerpts from Ms. Erickson; it's just the most recent (and served as an example of the FDA cited as an authority in support of HFCS.)  Just to further the discussion, let's take a closer look at Ms Erickson's statements, sentence by sentence. (Comment posted by: Audrae Erickson, Corn Refiners Association On: 1/15/2010)
Title: Natural Sweeteners
High fructose corn syrup is made from corn, a natural grain product.
Yes and yes.  
High fructose corn syrup contains no artificial or synthetic ingredients or color additives and meets the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s requirements for use of the term “natural.” 
Define natural? The key ingredient in HFCS that makes it HFCS is a genetically modified enzyme, Glucose Isomerase.  According to whom? The Sugar lobby?  No, I base this statement on the article "Molecular and Industrial Aspects of Glucose Isomerase,"  by Snehalata Bhosale, Mala Rao, and Vasanti Deshpande, published in The American Society for Microbiology's academic journal, Microbiological Review.   The article describes the production of HFCS and breaks it down into a 3-step process:  "The production of HFCS from starch comprises three major processes: (i) liquefaction of starch by α-amylase, (ii) saccharification of starch by the combined action of amyloglucosidase and a debranching enzyme, and (iii) isomerization of glucose by GI."

Does Natural necessarily mean good? Skimming quickly the entry for "Natural" from the Skeptic's Dictionary is a sobering reminder that those words are not synonymous.

According to the Cambridge International Dictionary (as accessed through, "natural" is an adjective; the first definition listed is:  "as found in nature and not involving anything made or done by people."

Surprisingly, although listed fifty different dictionary entries for "natural" (not factoring in multiple entries in a given dictionary), they did not list the FDA's "requirements for the use of the term 'natural.'"

Consumers are being misled into thinking that there are nutritional differences between high fructose corn syrup and sugar, when in fact they are nutritionally the same.
If "nutritionally" refers back to the extent to which something is nutritional or provides nutrients, then, strictly speaking there is nothing wrong with this statement.  I imagine they would both be regarded as non-essential nutrients.  But is that really the point if we are considering the detrimental effects of sugar compared with HFCS?  If we are talking about fatty liver disease, insulin resistance, lipogenic effects, etc, shouldn't we be comparing fructose content of table sugar versus how much fructose there is in HFCS?  The fact that HFCS comes in a variety of fructose concentrations and the consumer is not cued into which is which means that a given product with HFCS may have about as much fructose as a similar item sweetened with table sugar, OR maybe two, three or even more times the fructose content.  In terms of the healh issues so prominent in the sugar versus HFCS debate, the caloric content or nutritional value is not really relevant, is it?
Whether from cane, beets, or corn, a sugar is a sugar.
Based on General Chemistry Online's relatively broad definition for "sugar," this statement is pretty accurate. Here's the definition: "A carbohydrate with a characteristically sweet taste. Sugars are classified as monosaccharides, disaccharides, or trisaccharides"
They all contain four calories per gram.
See the above comment on "nutritionally."
Switching out a kind of corn sugar for table sugar is not for health and it is not for science.
This statement refers to products, such as Pepsi Throwback.  It may very well be true that Pepsi marketed this product not as a result of politics (broadly defined) but rather in response to the public's interest in reducing intake of HFCS. 
It is unfortunate that consumers are being duped by these marketing gimmicks, which may result in higher food prices at checkout.
Here Ms Erickson assumes that the public has been duped.  To be duped, tricked/swindled whatever, implies a certain naivete and ignorance on the part of the subject.  The tone of this statement may betray a certain degree of arrogance and hubris on the part of Ms Erickson.
High fructose corn syrup is more economical and functionally superior to sugar, it is equally sweet, has the same number of calories and is handled similarly by the body.
Why is it more economical? Here's a little discussion that gives some background information on this issue.
High fructose corn syrup offers numerous benefits, too. It keeps foods fresh. It enhances fruit and spice flavors. It retains moisture in bran cereals and helps keep breakfast bars moist.
Who reaps these benefits?  

Well, just one example....

Yes, it really says $69 billion. (source for the "facts" blurb)

Oh yes, i almost forgot-- the final line of Ms Erickson's statement:
Consumers can read the latest research and learn more about high fructose corn syrup at

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