Researchers dispute HFCS-obesity link

by Jeff Gelski
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WASHINGTON — Researchers found no evidence an increase in high-fructose corn syrup consumption is uniquely responsible for the rise in obesity, according to a supplement appearing in the December 2008 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The supplement drew its information from the annual American Society for Nutrition Public Information Committee symposium held in April 2007 in Washington.

"The data presented indicated that HFCS is very similar to sucrose, being about 55% fructose and 45% glucose, and thus, not surprisingly, few metabolic differences were found comparing HFCS and sucrose," wrote Victor Fulgoni III, senior vice-president of Nutrition Impact, L.L.C., Battle Creek, Mich. "That said, HFCS does contribute to added sugars and calories, and those concerned with managing their weight should be concerned about calories from beverages and other foods, regardless of HFCS content."

HFCS is not meaningfully different in composition or metabolism from other fructose-glucose sweeteners like sucrose, honey and fruit juice concentrates, said John S. White of White Technical Research, Argenta, Ill. He evaluated the hypothesis that HFCS is uniquely responsible for obesity.

"I conclude that the HFCS-obesity hypothesis is supported neither in the United States nor worldwide," Mr. White said.

Researchers from the Rippe Lifestyle Institute, Shrewsbury, Mass.; the University of Central Florida, Orlando; and the University of Rhode Island, Kingston, examined collective data on associations between HFCS consumption and energy balance.

"Compared with pure glucose, fructose is thought to be associated with insufficient secretion of insulin and leptin and suppression of ghrelin," the researchers said. "However, when HFCS is compared with sucrose, the more commonly consumed sweetener, such differences are not apparent, and appetite and energy intake do not differ in the short term."

Researchers from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, examined data from the Nationwide Food Consumption Surveys (1965 and 1977), the Continuing Survey of Food Intake by Individuals (1989-1991) and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (1999-2000, 2001-02 and 2003-04). They found availability and consumption of HFCS and added sugar increased over time until a slight decline between 2000 and 2004.

"Although increased intake of calories from HFCS is important to examine, the health effect of overall trends in added caloric sweeteners should not be overlooked," the U.N.C. researchers said.

Audrae Erickson, president of the Corn Refiners Association, Washington, said the symposium addressed confusion about HFCS.

"This symposium exposes the crux of confusion about high-fructose corn syrup," she said. "It is a case of mistaken identity between two sweeteners. Many confuse pure fructose with high-fructose corn syrup, a sweetener that never contains fructose alone, but always in combination with a roughly equivalent amount of a second sugar (glucose).

"Recent studies that have examined pure fructose — often at abnormally high levels — have been inappropriately applied to high-fructose corn syrup and have caused significant consumer confusion."

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