The nutrition label on a soft drink shows that high-fructose corn syrup is a major ingredient. / AP
(Florida Today) - If you do a quick Google search for "high-fructose corn syrup" you'll see words like "metabolic danger," "toxic additive" and "ubiquitous poison." It's enough to make anyone afraid of this common sweetener, which is found throughout the American diet in everything from soda to cookies to tomato sauce and salad dressing. Mixed messages about this food additive have left consumers confused.
Let's explore some of the myths about high-fructose corn syrup:
• High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is worse than sugar. Actually, HFCS is very similar in chemical structure and in calorie content to sugar. Regular table sugar is made up of 50 percent glucose and 50 percent fructose molecules. HFCS is 45 percent glucose and 55 percent fructose. Because they are so similar, the body absorbs both in virtually the same manner.
• HFCS causes obesity and diabetes.Critics say that the use of HFCS in the '70s coincided with the increase in obesity and diabetes rates in America. There is no evidence to support this belief. Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that consumption of HFCS has been declining, while obesity and diabetes rates continue to climb. Around the world, obesity is increasing even though HFCS consumption is limited outside of the U.S.
• HFCS is not natural. Natural is a relative term. Neither HFCS nor sugar occurs in nature in their processed form. Sugar is extracted from either cane or beets, and HFCS comes from corn. Corn is a natural sweetener. HFCS does not contain artificial or synthetic ingredients or color additives. It meets the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's requirements for use of the term "natural."
• HFCS is metabolized differently than sugar and blocks the body's ability to know when it's full. Multiple studies have shown that HFCS has similar effects on feelings of fullness as sugar and 1 percent milk. All of these studies found no difference between the metabolic effects of HFCS compared to sugar.
• HFCS contains DNA from genetically modified corn. It is true that corn used to produce HFCS may have been produced using genetically modified corn. However, research shows that corn DNA isn't detected in measurable amounts in high-fructose corn syrup.
• HFCS is banned in Europe. It is not banned, but the European Union issues production quotas on sweeteners so that they do not compete with their own domestic sugar producers. The goal of the EU quota is to regulate competition by all other sweeteners, and is not intended to ban the use of HFCS specifically.
• HFCS is subsidized by the U.S. government. Despite what you might have heard, HFCS is not a protected commodity. It is regulated by the highs and lows of the marketplace and supply and demand. The only sweeteners that benefit from government support programs in the United States are sugar and honey. The Farm Bill does provide a safety net to corn farmers in the U.S. if the crop price falls below certain levels, but this only supports corn growers, not the corn refiners who produce HFCS.