“Sugar was the old devil, and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is the new devil,” says Marcia Mogelonsky, senior analyst, Mintel, in a recent New York Times article. Thanks in large part to the mainstream media, which takes a ball and runs with it, whether it's accurate or not, consumers now believe HFCS is not only bad for them, but is the primary cause of an obesity epidemic in this country. And, “for consumers, their perception is reality,” says Jim Sieple, sr. V.P. Log Cabin Syrup, in that same New York Times piece.
Scientists, however, do not share the perception that HFCS is to blame for obesity; many of whom hold the media responsible for causing consumer confusion. Still, the media should not shoulder the entire blame.
A recent report in the Journal of Nutrition attributed confusion about HFCS to research that tested high levels of pure fructose. Testing high levels of pure fructose at levels not seen in the typical diet and generalizing these findings to HFCS, created a case of mistaken identity. HFCS is not pure fructose, but contains fructose and glucose, as does sugar. Sugar and HFCS reportedly have similar effects on satiety, overall energy balance, metabolic hormones and biochemical metabolites, such as triglycerides and uric acid.
The FDA caused a bit of turmoil with its own inconsistent ruling when it initially indicated HFCS should not be considered natural and then reversed its opinion, saying it would not object to the use of a natural claim for HFCS (see R&D Applications on pg. 14 for more detail). Sometimes government agencies react before they have all the scientific facts in place. Remember when saccharin was banned in the 1970s?
Obesity in this country should be attributed to excessive caloric intake, more so than too much consumption of one sweetener or another. Seemingly, the issue of obesity is far more complex than simply blaming one ingredient or another. Both sugar and HFCS are equally bad in excess, as are many things we consume.
Holding HFCS responsible for obesity and other health-related issues isn't a responsible thing to do. The baking industry can counter some of the confusion and misconceptions about HFCS by helping to educate consumers.