There has been an ongoing debate about the effects of high fructose corn syrup on the body. (Better known as HFCS.) On one hand you have opponents of HFCS say it leads to obesity and other problems . On the other hand, the corn industry says HCFS is “natural” giving it a higher appeal than all the other artificial sweeteners available. (See the below television ad sponsored by the Corn Finer Association) So, who is right?
A Princeton University research team, in my opinion ended the debate. Their study concluded that not all sweeteners are equal. Two different study were conducted to research the immediate and long term effects of rats and HFCS. (To see a short abstract of the study and purchase the full abstact, see here.) In the case of HFCS, the rats gained significantly more weight than those who had access to table sugar.
Here is the kicker. The researchers found that long term consumption of HFCS leads to abnormal increase in body fat, especially in the stomach area, and a rise in triglycerides. Eat alot of products with HFCS? Start checking the labels. You will be surprised to find that your HFCS consumption may be the cause of that tire around your middle. Being a couch potato does not help either.
“Some people have claimed that high-fructose corn syrup is no different than other sweeteners when it comes to weight gain and obesity, but our results make it clear that this just isn’t true, at least under the conditions of our tests,” said psychology professor Bart Hoebel, who specializes in the neuroscience of appetite, weight and sugar addiction. “When rats are drinking high-fructose corn syrup at levels well below those in soda pop, they’re becoming obese — every single one, across the board. Even when rats are fed a high-fat diet, you don’t see this; they don’t all gain extra weight.”
In addition, the team added,
“These rats aren’t just getting fat; they’re demonstrating characteristics of obesity, including substantial increases in abdominal fat and circulating triglycerides,” said Princeton graduate student Miriam Bocarsly. “In humans, these same characteristics are known risk factors for high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, cancer and diabetes.”
Food Industry Response?
Of course, the Corn Finer Association issued a statement, in which they denounced the Princeton findings.
“…the authors failed to put into perspective the excessive amount consumed by the rats in their experimental design. Translating the study’s reported rat intakes to human proportions, the calories gained from high fructose corn syrup would be equivalent to about 3000 kcal/day all from that single source. In comparison, adult humans consume about 2,000 calories per day from all dietary sources. Such intake levels for the study animals would be the equivalent of humans drinking a total of 20 cans of 12 ounce sodas per day – a highly unrealistic amount. Moreover, the researchers concluded that the rats gained more weight from high fructose corn syrup than they would have from sugar, yet the researchers had no proper basis for drawing this conclusion since they failed to provide sucrose controls for part of the study’s short-term experiments and no sucrose controls whatsoever were present in any of the long-term experiments.”
Even the Washington Post weighed in with their article, “Is that right? HFCS makes people fat?” In the article, they cited the opinon of Marion Nestle, a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University and author of the Food Politics blog.
“I can hardly believe that Princeton sent out a press release yesterday announcing the results of this rat study. The press release says: “Rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than those with access to table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same.” How they came to these conclusions is beyond me.”
However, the author felt there were flaws in the study.
“Among Nestle’s chief complaints: Though the study claims that all the rats consumed the same number of calories, nowhere does it actually say how many calories. Plus, the whole thing seems poorly designed, with rats consuming different combinations of HFCS, sucrose and rat chow for varying periods, making straight comparisons difficult.”
At the end of the Washington post article is a short interview with Professor Hoebel, in which he defended the teams’ results.
If you agreed with the Princeton study and concerned about HFCS in your food then read the list of food products that does not contain HFCS. You can subscribe to the site’s email to receive updates to the list.
Ditch the HFCS and Add the Sugar?
Does the Princeton study beg the question, is sugar better? Should we be running out and buying Kosher for Passover Coke and other products since they do not contain corn syrup?
A New York Times article, “Sugar Is Back on Food Labels, This Time as a Selling Point,” stated sugar is on a comeback for many reasons. The Times noted at Jason’s Deli, a chain of 200 restaurants in 27 states, replaced HFCS with cane sugar in everything but a few carbonated drinks. (Watch the CEO ‘s video on how he feels about HFCS.) Note, the Deli has a poll on its site asking if its customers if they would prefer to eliminate HFCS from their soft drinks and replace it with cane sugar. Of course I weighed in and said eliminate HFCS. As of this date, 70% polled agreed with me. Great minds think alike.
“Part of this is a huge rebellion against HFCS,” said Daniel Helfman, a spokesman for the chain, “but part of it is taste.”
For others, it is about having the ability to choose a more natural product. HFCS is a processed food.
“High-fructose corn syrup is produced by a complex series of chemical reactions that includes the use of three enzymes and caustic soda.”
But remember a calorie is still a calorie.
“Even though overall consumption of caloric sweeteners is starting to drop, Dr. Crawford [Center for Weight and Health at the University of California, Berkeley] says an empty calorie is still an empty calorie. And it does not matter whether people think sugar is somehow “retro,” a word used to promote new, sugar-based versions of Pepsi and Mountain Dew called Throwback.
“If people really want to go back to where we were, that means not putting sugar in everything,” she said. “It means keeping it to desserts.”
So, your best bet. Skip the sugar and the HFCS all together.
Readers, let me know your thoughts about the Princeton study and sugar being added back into products now. Is the debate over that HFCS is just plain bad for you or is the war still being wages with sugar versus HFCS?
Tip via Treehugger
Photo via Princeton’s Media site.