In the face of mounting consumer concerns about the dangers of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and the desire of food companies to keep using it, the Corn Refiners Association has come up with a solution: Instead of trying to provide a healthier product, they have petitioned the FDA to let them give HFCS a new name: corn sugar.
The industry would have us believe that the name change is for our own good to clear up “confusion” about HFCS. However, the question is whether this move is much more about marketing, hiding health dangers and keeping profits high than it is about any concern for consumers.
According to Audrae Erickson, president of the Washington-based Corn Refiners Association, “Clearly the name is confusing consumers. Research shows that ‘corn sugar’ better communicates the amount of calories, the level of fructose and the sweetness in this ingredient.”
On the other hand, increasing numbers of studies are warning about the dangers of HFCS and consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about those dangers. According to one noted market research group, about 58 percent of Americans say they are concerned that high-fructose corn syrup poses risks to health. As a result of such concerns, many food companies are discontinuing the use of HFCS in their products, including Hunt’s Ketchup, Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice, Snapple and Wheat Thins crackers.
High fructose corn syrup is not naturally occurring and contains different metabolic structures of fructose, dextrose and sucrose than those that do occur naturally. Our bodies’ systems metabolize these very differently than natural forms of sugar. HFCS has been strongly linked to the epidemics of obesity and diabetes and the huge consequences of those epidemics on the health of tens of millions of Americans. In addition, excess isolated fructose intake has been associated with adverse health effects such as:
Metabolic syndrome, elevated triglyceride levels, hypertension, high blood pressure, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, excess uric acid levels (associated with gout), and elevated levels of advanced glycation end products (linked with aging and complications of diabetes).
Princeton researchers have announced the results of two studies on HFCS. In the first study, male rats that were given water sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup in addition to a standard diet of rat chow gained much more weight than male rats that received water sweetened with table sugar, or sucrose.
In the second study, rats on a diet rich in HFCS showed characteristic signs of metabolic syndrome, a dangerous condition in humans. In addition to significant increases in circulating triglycerides and other problems, the rats also ballooned in size. Male rats gained 48 percent more than rats eating a normal diet – the equivalent to a 200-pound man gaining 96 pounds.
Although food label changes aren’t common, the F.D.A. has allowed name changes in the past. The ingredient first called low erucic acid rapeseed oil was changed to the more palatable sounding canola oil in the 1980s. More recently, the FDA allowed prunes to be called dried plums.
Notably, and perhaps ominously, the FDA also permitted the use of different names for unhealthy monosodium glutamate (MSG), which now comes hidden in multitudes of food products under more than 25 different names, including natural flavoring and hydrolyzed vegetable protein.
Food manufacturers originally flocked to the use of HFCS because it is cheaper than sucrose (table sugar) and mixes well with a variety of products. Should the FDA approve the name change to corn sugar, it is likely that food manufacturers will continue to use the dangerous sweetener in their products and perhaps return to it in products where it has been discontinued. But isn’t that what the name change is really all about anyway?