Becky Fenger Fenger PointingNOVEMBER 17, 2010

The truth about HFCS at last

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Back in 2004, University of North Carolina Professor Barry Popkin co-authored a study which linked high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) to increased obesity rates. That was all it took for the frantic food police to demonize a substance, corn sugar, that has its place in the universe. For the next six years, HFCS became the whipping boy of the nanny state.
"What happened was that the bloggers took over and made HFCS a horror product," he wrote.

In a bulletin from the American Council on Science and Health, we learn that, finally, experts have come to the realization that HFCS is nutritionally equivalent to ordinary sugar. It's about time. "There's no credible science supporting the charges against high fructose corn syrup," stated Marion Nestle, a nutritionist who is often on the side of the fear mongers.

Even the scientifically-wobbly Center for Science in the Public Interest (which often operates against the public interest) has folded and admitted it erred. "There's no nutritional difference between it and table sugar," announced Michael Jacobson, its executive director. How sweet it is to hear those words from an organization not known for its accuracy in scientific research.

Let's review: High-fructose corn syrup is made up of both glucose and fructose. So is table sugar. Table sugar consists of 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose. HFCS is 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose. Virtually identical.

This is great news that should get the same wide dissemination that the HFCS witch hunt received, since the HFCS appears in so many food and drink products that unnecessary avoidance would be a real hassle. Because perception is so many people's reality, manufacturers took to eliminating the substance entirely or changing the name of HFCS to other terms less maligned.

Earlier last month, the Center for Consumer Freedom reported on the pronouncements of the well-known TV doctor, Dr. Mehmet Oz. He invited Robert Lustig on his show for a discussion, and the two of them attacked the idea that "a calorie is a calorie" no matter what food it is in. Dr. Oz poses his theory of "obesogens," chemicals in everyday foods and beverages that are sneakily making us all fat. (Well, the two-thirds of us who are approaching obesity.)

As the Center points out, this theory is not new. The first time it appeared was under the title of "endocrine disruption." This idea is that "chemicals in foods (and from food packaging) mimic hormones that the human body produces, messing with our organ systems' ability to function normally." Not true.

The Wall Street Journal published an article not long ago by Allysia Finley in which she quotes chemist Joe Schwarcz of McGill University's Office for Science and Society. He claims that the doses of these chemicals found on our plates are likely too low to have a material effect. Just because a rat was stuffed with fructose and gained weight doesn't mean that the product should be outlawed for humans. The poor rats are practically getting the equivalent of Tempe Town Lake filled with Pepsi every day to make their bellies chubby. No wonder they fluff up!

More good news: The National Toxicology Program reported in 2008, and so has every valid study since, that there is no evidence to conclude the bisphenol-A exposure during development predisposes laboratory animals to develop obesity, or metabolic diseases such as diabetes, later in life. Surely you have heard the wailing about the BPA which is used to line cans of food and contained in a pot load full of other products, like baby bottles, that alarmists fear will harm our children and us and want banned. Forgettaboutit.

Technological advances are good things – except maybe when it allows us to test for the presence of a substance now in microscopic levels of parts per billion or trillion. People freak out now when they should remember one thing: It is the dose that makes the poison. We are reminded that even Vitamin C can kill us in high enough amounts. So can drinking water, but I have yet to witness a ban on water, even though it naturally contains arsenic (although the EPA has lowered the allowed levels way, way below what is safe for consumption.)

Food police, don't get any weird ideas.