I’m sure we have all heard the point/counterpoint surrounding the use of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) in everything from soda to ketchup to bread. On one side you have the Corn Refiners Association stating HFCS is broken down and absorbed by the body just like any other sugar. On the other side you have nutritionists, health care providers, and consumer advocacy groups merely repeating the standard wisdom that HFCS is bad for you, with little explanation as to why.  There are many studies on both sides that discuss the way our bodies process  HFCS vs Sugar and other sweeteners; you can read them and form your own conclusions, but keep in mind who is funding each of those studies.

There is also a related segment of this discussion about HFCS, and that is why it is so cheap, and why the surplus of corn is so vast that food manufacturers are shoving it in to products where it really has no business being.

But that isn’t what this article is all about. In the wake of the negative publicity HFCS is receiving, the Corn Refiners Association has decided on a new approach. “Let’s just rebrand HFCS as Corn Sugar, that way the people who are shopping and have been trained to avoid HFCS will be duped into buying our products again.” Oh wait, not duped; according to the Corn Refiners Association website  Relabeling high fructose corn syrup as “corn sugar” would enable consumers to easily identify added sugars in the diet.”

Seriously? Intentionally obfuscating a standard household name for a product is going to make it easier for consumers?

Despite the fact that the Corn Refiners Association claims the name changed is approved by the FDA, the FDA would beg to differ. Unfortunately, the FDA is toothless in this case. They can’t prohibit the Corn Refiners from using the name as a part of their marketing, since it is not an actual product they, themselves, are selling. They can only go after manufacturers who use the name Corn Sugar as a part of their own product label. But will they?

It should be insulting that the corn processing industry thinks that consumers would fall for such a tactic, but sadly I think they are right. It could take the general public years to come to grips with this change in terminology, during which time much of the progress that has been made in educating consumers on which products should or shouldn’t contain added sweeteners would be lost.

So what is a savvy consumer to do? Read labels, certainly. In general, if any kind of sugar or sweetener is among the first 5 ingredients–pass. Make it yourself at home. And educate yourself on both sides of any argument so you’re not swayed by sneaky marketing ploys.
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5 Responses

  1. danielle

    just tonight i was reading the ingredient label on a bag of chips and saw “corn sugar” as one of the ingredients.

    • Mark

      Interesting, manufacturers are taking a risk in using that name prior to FDA approval. That is actually an enforceable action prior to the name change being approved.

  2. Sam

    You should check out this article from my co-food columnist at our school newspaper, The Badger Herald: http://badgerherald.com/artsetc/2011/10/19/no_kernel_of_truth_t.php

    I think it’s pretty much agreed-upon in the food science community that HFCS and sugar are really no different for you as far as the effects upon your body. The real danger of HFCS is that it’s easy to mass produce and hence accelerates the infusion of sugar into all kinds of foods that make up the American diet. As far as the new name “corn sugar” goes, I say more power to them. If the media is going to take the term “HFCS” and demonize it to the extent it has, I think they have the right to try and re-brand themselves.

  3. Mark

    Sam I would love to see the study that the columnist was using as a reference. There are many studies that directly contradict one another. I agree with her though, the message that HFCS is bad for you is not the message that should be sent, it is that it is included in food products where it really shouldn’t be, and in higher quantities than the sugar it replaced in some products. And all that is a direct result of subsidies that have made corn so cheap to produce that we have a huge surplus that needs to be used. I also agree that they should be able to re brand their product, I just think that Corn Sugar is intentionally misleading and is intended to circumvent what I think is progress in people reading labels and making a decision towards moderation.

  4. Laura Chin

    Even if you’re unconvinced that HFCS isn’t the demon rum “they” say it is, it’s still not coming from organic corn which means it is a genetically modified organism filled with pesticides/glyphosate. As a rule, I try to stay away from eating pesticides.


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