Setting the record straight on high fructose corn syrup
It’s just sugar and South Dakota and Nebraska corn growers aren’t overly concerned about how the recent firestorm of publicity surrounding high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) will affect future demand for corn.
“We don’t want to totally dismiss the concerns that have been raised about HFCS,” Scott Merritt, Executive Director at Nebraska Corn Growers Association says. “It’s more of an issue on the east and west coast. Midwest consumers realize HFCS is like any other sweetener.”
Controversy about HFCS began when the American Medical Association released a report in 2004 on a study examining the link between sugar-sweetened beverages, weight gain and incidence of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus in young and middle-aged women. The report noted that sugar-sweetened beverages “contain large amounts of high-fructose corn syrup” and went on to say each serving of soda “represents a considerable amount of glycemic load that may increase risk of diabetes.”
In 2008, the AMA released a report stating that HFCS is not a leading factor in obesity.
“HFCS does have a lot of calories,” Merritt says. “So does sugar. When people say HFCS is causing obesity, you have to look at other sweeteners, like sugar. That’s causing obesity, too. Is HFCS worse than sugar? The AMA released a report in 2008 that says it doesn’t appear to be.”
HFCS was introduced to the food industry when it was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1983. Development of HFCS as a sweetener began in the 1970s when the food industry began searching for more economic sweetening sources.
In addition to its sweetening properties, HFCS gives a pleasing brown crust to breads and cakes, contributes fermentable sugars to yeast-raised products, reduces sugar crystallization of soft-moist textures during baking and enhances the flavor of fruit fillings. In yogurt, HFCS provides fermentable sugars, enhances fruit and spice flavors, controls moisture to prevent separation and regulates tartness.
Use of HFCS in spaghetti sauces, ketchup and condiments enhances flavor and balances the variable tartness of tomatoes. In canned and frozen fruits, HFCS protects the firmness of canned fruits and reduces freezer burn in frozen fruits.
“Since this controversy arose, the Corn Refiners Association and Corn Growers Associations have completed numerous educational projects to help consumers understand what HFCS is,” Merritt says. “It’s been used for nearly 35 years now. You find it in juices, ice cream and many other food products. I think if you asked consumers in the Midwest if HFCS is good or bad they’d tell you it’s the same as sugar. It’s not healthy to overindulge in either product.”
South Dakota Corn Growers Association Executive Director Lisa Richardson says media attention to the HFCS topic have led to development of urban myths about the product.
“HFCS is compositionally equal to sugar,” Richardson says. “Both sweeteners have the same number of calories. They’re also equal in sweetness and are processed exactly the same in the body. The bottom line, when it comes to obesity, is that HFCS gets a bad rap. We all take responsibility for our choices. To avoid obesity, intake of calories in any form must be less than the calories burned. It’s that simple.”
Merritt notes that it’s ironic that some groups view development of ethanol as a drain on food supplies – an avenue that could lead to world hunger. On the other hand, corn products are being blamed for obesity.
“A very small percentage of the corn produced in the United States is actually used for human food,” Merritt says. “At this point in time, the corn industry hasn’t seen any negative impact because of the controversy. However, legislators are currently considering taxing soft drinks to discourage consumption. If soft drink companies start losing market share because of the increased prices, that will in turn affect corn processors and corn growers. As an industry, we need to make sure the public has all the facts about HFCS.”
Richardson encourages farmers to obtain factual information about HFCS and share it with their community whenever possible.
“The image of South Dakota corn growers and corn growers across the nation is being wrongly attacked,” Richardson says. “Special interest groups are trying to convince consumers that this sweetener additive is somehow worse for them than its twin – table sugar. There are no better spokesmen for this issue than farmers themselves.”
The most accurate and thorough information about HFCS can be found at http://www.sweetsurprise.com. Corn associations in every corn producing state are providing education materials about the benefits of corn and safety and health of products containing corn.
Tests have shown that HFCS, table sugar and honey all have similar compositions and are all digested and metabolized similarly.
“SDCGA has embraced social media outlets to share farmers’ stories through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and more,” Richardson says. “It’s our way of engaging consumers and connecting them to those who produce their food. We’re also promoting South Dakota farmers and educating consumers and children about the truths behind production agriculture.”
Charts outlining per capita consumption of caloric sweeteners demonstrate that consumption of HFCS and sugar is nearly equal. In 2007, consumption of both products dropped from 89.9 pounds/year to 84.3. Both sugar and HFCS contain four calories per gram, 16 calories per teaspoon. Most nutritive sweeteners provide approximately the same number of calories per gram.
The American Diabetic Association advises consumers that they can safely enjoy nutritive sweeteners that are consumed as part of an overall diet that meets government recommendation.
“It’s easy to respond to misinformation with facts about HFCS,” Richardson says. “Countless studies and nutritional experts have dismissed the controversy over this natural sweetener. What’s more, HFCS is largely a non-issue in South Dakota. We don’t produce HFCS here and consumers here understand HFCS is a sweetener made from corn and is no different than table sugar.”
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the June 19, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News