(Health Secrets Newsletter) In what has all the appearances of the pot calling the kettle black, two of the unhealthiest and most widely consumed items in the American diet are headed to court to decide which one is more evil. Big Sugar is taking on Big Corn and their High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) are in a landmark battle in a Los Angles federal court.
Sugar producers are accusing their corn industry rivals of false advertising by casting HFCS as “nutritionally the same as table sugar” and claiming that “your body can’t tell the difference.” The sugar group contends that HFCS is far less healthy than table sugar and is demanding that the Corn Refiners Association ads be halted as well as demanding payment of unspecified monetary damages.
Medical research on the metabolic effects of consuming sugar versus high fructose corn syrup has consistently indicated heightened risks from the liquid sweetener, said Michael I. Goran, director of the Child Obesity Research Center at USC’s Keck School of Medicine.
“There’s definitely a difference in metabolic fate and outcome of fructose ingestion relative to glucose,” Goran said, noting that HFCS contains more fructose, as its name implies. “So the more you tip the scale toward fructose, the more those negative effects kick in.”
High fructose corn syrup was invented in 1957. It took another 20 years to develop a low-cost production method for HFCS. After tariffs that drove up the cost of imported cane and beet sugars, and federal subsidiesthat drove down the cost of corn, HFCS usage quickly exploded. In 1972, the average American consumed about 1.2 pounds of the HFCS. By 1999, average consumption had ballooned to over 63 pounds.The reason that food makers have flocked to HFCS in recent decades is because it is cheaper to make, helps stabilize foods, allows for better browning of baked goods and provides a more concentrated sweetness than the same amount of sugar.In the last ten years, HFCS usage has plummeted by more than 20% as consumers have grown increasingly wary of the sweetener, which has been blamed for America’s large and expanding obesity epidemic and a wide array of other health problems, including liver damage, cancer, diabetes, heart problems and even mercury consumption. About a decade ago, the surgeon general first expressed alarm over the rapid and ubiquitous spread of the sweetener in processed foods and concerns about HFCS have mounted ever since.Because of its tarnished image the association representing corn growers, processors and distributors has applied to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to officially change the name of HFCS to “corn sugar”, a move vehemently opposed by the sugar industry.
It isn’t just Big Sugar, however, that opposes high fructose corn syrup’s efforts to rebrand itself.
“If sugar wanted to change its name to ‘highly nutritious vitamins’ we would oppose that too,” said James S. Turner, a Washington attorney who heads pro-sugar’s Citizens for Health.
Both sugar and HFCS rake in hundreds of billions of dollars per year. Though HFCS is considered the unhealthier of the two, table sugar has its own problems. The World Health Organization has labeled refined sugar as a leading cause of illness in the world today. Both should be avoided.
According to the USDA, the average American consumed 888 calories per day from sweeteners with an average consumption of 35 pounds of high fructose corn syrup and 47 pounds of sugar per person in 2010 – more than triple the per-capita sweetener intake elsewhere in the world.