Reformulating without HFCS may be misleading

by Jeff Gelski
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ANAHEIM, CALIF. — Dr. John White, Ph.D., acknowledges food and beverage companies are under pressure to reformulate away from high-fructose corn syrup and use sugar (sucrose) in their products. Such reformulation implies one sweetener is healthier than the other, he said.

"That is simply not true, and it is very misleading to consumers," said Dr. White, president of White Technical Research, Argenta, Ill., in a media briefing put together by the Washington-based Corn Refiners Association June 7 at the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition in Anaheim.

Exchanging one sweetener for the other is a "metabolic wash," he said, and added both the American Medical Association and the American Dietetic Association agree.

Dr. James Rippe, M.D., a cardiologist and biomedical sciences professor at the University of Central Florida, Orlando, Fla., gave four reasons why the public has shunned HFCS in great numbers.

First, an opinion piece in The New York Times in 2004 said it was interesting that obesity became a U.S. epidemic during the same time HFCS use increased. Dr. Rippe said this statement marked an association, but not a cause. One also could note the association between the obesity epidemic and the rise of cell phone use.

"You could blame the obesity epidemic on cell phones," he said.

For the second reason, high-fructose corn syrup probably is poorly named, Dr. Rippe said.

"The public cannot be expected to know the difference between pure fructose and high-fructose corn syrup," he said. "High-fructose corn syrup sounds like it must have a lot of fructose in it."

HFCS may have as much as 55% fructose. Sucrose has about 50%. Agave nectar, Dr. Rippe said, has 70%.

For reason No. 3, studies recently have come out comparing pure fructose to pure glucose. They show diets high in pure fructose to be unhealthy. Consumers mistakenly may infer those findings include diets high in high-fructose corn syrup.

"I will say again, we cannot expect the public to draw a distinction between fructose and high-fructose corn syrup," Dr. Rippe said.

For the final reason, obesity, particularly childhood obesity, has become an emotional issue. People want a simple answer to the problem and want to point a "smoking gun" at something, Dr. Rippe said. Some people have blamed HFCS even though Dr. Rippe said he agreed with Dr. White that HFCS and sugar are similar in many ways. Dr. Rippe listed such areas as triglycerides, blood sugar effect and caloric value.

"There is no longer any scientific debate on this," he said. "Now we have to go back and convince the public that there is no benefit for replacing high-fructose corn syrup with sucrose."

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