The Great Corn Sugar Hoax

By Bonnie Jenkins

It’s sweet—and potentially deadly. I’m talking about high fructose corn syrup—that ubiquitous sweetener that’s been linked to everything from obesity to type 2 diabetes to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. It raises cholesterol and triglyceride levels and makes blood cells more prone to clotting. It may even accelerate the aging process.

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is suffering from a serious image problem. As researchers uncovered the sweeteners dark side, it fell out of favor with consumers and sales slumped.

Of course the industry hasn’t taken this lying down. No doubt you’ve seen the commercials. Actors playing everyday folks pushing drinks and desserts made with HFCS to skeptics, assuring them that the manmade sweetener is just as safe as sugar. But apparently, Americans aren’t buying it.

So does that mean that HFCS will fade into oblivion? Not a chance! In fact, just recently the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) petitioned the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to allow food and beverage manufacturers to label high fructose corn syrup as “corn sugar.” The CRA says the move is about clarity for consumers. Who are they kidding?

This isn’t a new strategy. Companies have often re-branded products with sagging sales. Perhaps the CRA assumes that shoppers won’t notice the switch to the simpler, most friendly term “corn sugar.” But I have a feeling that consumers will quickly figure out that they are being hoodwinked.

While it could take the FDA two years to render its verdict on the name change, manufacturers aren’t waiting around. There’s a new online marketing campaign talking about how “benign” this pervasive sweetener is. Two new online commercials try to alleviate shopper confusion by telling us that “whether it’s corn sugar or cane sugar, your body can’t tell the difference. Sugar is sugar.”

What they should be saying is that these phony sweetener swaps aren’t making the things we eat or drink more natural or better for us. And that won’t change, even if high-fructose corn syrup becomes “corn sugar.”

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Sugar is bad for us, pure and simple.

Of course, a little bit now and again won’t hurt you. But we Americans have let our sweet tooth dominate our lives and we are paying a hefty price for it. From an evolutionary standpoint, our bodies can’t handle large quantities of sugar, particularly fructose. Eating it poses a health hazard, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s from HFCS or refined sugar.

No matter what they call it—HFCS or corn sugar—educated consumers know that switching from one sugar to another won’t miraculously lead to good health. And whether it comes from cane, beets or corn, if you truly want to foster good health, it’s best to limit your intake of refined sugar in favor of truly natural sweeteners like honey, pure maple syrup or agave. Used in moderation, these sweeteners offer up nutrition along with taste—and it doesn’t get any sweeter than that!


Ouyang X, Cirillo P, Sautin Y, et al. “Fructose consumption as a risk factor for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.” Journal of Hepatology. 2008;48:993-999.

Scott-Thomas C. High fructose corn syrup: A sugar by any other name. NutraIngredients. Sept. 28, 2010.

Stanhope KL. Consuming fructose-sweetened, not glucose-sweetened, beverages increases visceral adiposity and lipids and decreases insulin sensitivity in overweight/obese humans. Journal of Clinical Investigation. 2009;119: 1322-1334

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