Corn Sugar?

The term ‘corn sugar’ has a quaint, somewhat old fashioned ring to it. It sounds a lot less industrial than ‘high fructose corn syrup’, which is what the Corn Refiner’s Association would like us to think. About two weeks ago, the CRA submitted a petition to the United States FDA, to officially change the name from HFCS to corn sugar. The goal, as stated on their website, is to ‘eliminate the confusion’. From this, I assume they believe we are confused about the source of HFCS, despite the fact the term ‘corn’ was already in the title.

So, why are the Corn Refiners rebranding? Well, food manufacturers are swapping out HFCS for old fashioned sugar. Some of this is due to consumer pressure, as HFCS has had a lot of bad press lately, particularly from studies suggesting that the way we metabolize HFCS is different than table sugar, and promotes faster weight gain. The debate rages on, as chemically, HFCS and table sugar are both similar in structure. The Corn Refiners are capitalizing on this, and so to cement in our minds that there is no difference between the sweeteners, a new name is born.

However, it’s not just consumer pressure that’s driving the switch to sugar. The production of ethanol from corn sources is driving up the price, making HFCS about equal in cost to sugar. With little financial incentive for manufacturers to use HFCS, the switch to sugar provides a marketing tool to label their products “made with sugar”. With two battlefronts to wage through, the CRA certainly has to step up their game to win an image war.

If there is one thing I agree with the CRA on, it’s the following statement from their press release:

“The last thing we want is for Americans to think that avoiding high fructose corn syrup is the answer,” said Registered Dietitian Carolyn O’Neil. “All added sugars should be consumed in moderation – corn sugar, table sugar, honey and fruit juice concentrates. These sugars contain an equal number of calories that must be burned off– or the body will convert them to fat.”

They are absolutely correct. The reality is, as smug as we can feel about demonizing HFCS as the culprit for the obesity epidemic, we eat too much of the sweet stuff period. It’s interesting to look at the overall picture and realize that whether you buy products with HFCS or not, it’s not the substance that matters, but the quantity we consume. If we are going to make any headway in changing the obesity trajectory we are on, we’ve got to ask ourselves why so much of what we buy is so sweet. More often than not, it’s because the food item is so poor on its own, its being masked as edible by sweeteners.

So, if few products contained added sweeteners, would we care about HFCS vs. sugar? Probably not.


  1. Couldn't agree more. If everyone would just make food with the best sugar for the job and not overdo it, I doubt all the sweetener drama would be necessary.

    While I got the soapbox, anyone that ogles over homemade marshmallows/peanut brittle/et al and feels it necessary to diss corn syrup can just pack up and go home :-p

  2. When will people get that sugar is sugar regardless of suffix, prefix or source? And so true that most commercial foods are so dismally lacking that massive amounts of sugar are needed so our tongues recognise it as food! I think we can retrain our tongues to be happy with much less sugar - I mean, come on, can it really be possible that I am the only one who thinks that Coke, for instance, is just waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too sweet?!?!

  3. Not having a sweet tooth, at least this isn't an issue for me and my family, thank goodness. If there are sweet things in the house, I make them and I usually end up throwing a good portion away because we just don't eat a lot of it. Great information though (especially with Halloween coming up).

  4. I completely agree...they spend more time masking food than bringing out natural flavors.
    Great article :)


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