Apr 29, 2009, 07:23AM

The Rise and Fall of High Fructose Corn Syrup

And why it may have gotten a bum rap. 

The unwholesome reputation of HFCS has no doubt been exacerbated by the general view that it's less "natural" than other forms of sugar. The notion that anything natural is healthy—and anything artificial is not—seems especially silly when it comes to added sweeteners. If fructose is indeed the problem, we'd do well to avoid the all-natural sweeteners in health-food products and fruit drinks, which often include concentrated apple or pear juices. These are almost two-thirds fructose—and might be significantly worse for your health than HFCS. (Organic, raw agave nectar could be even more dangerous, containing 90 percent fructose.) In any case, the question of how to classify HFCS is a vexing one, since the highly processed syrup is made from a natural product that grows in the soil. The major argument for designating HFCS as an artificial product relies on the long list of chemicals used to convert corn starch into fructose and glucose. (Two of those chemicals can transfer trace quantities of mercury the finished product.) At least one part of the process makes incidental use of a toxic, synthetic fixing agent called glutaraldehyde.On that basis, consumers have repeatedly tried to sue soft-drink manufacturers for marketing HFCS-sweetened products as "all natural." In 2007, the makers of 7Up and Capri Sun changed the wording of their labels in the face of legal action. A similar lawsuit against Snapple was tossed out last year, when the judge decided that what can only be described as the metaphysical status of corn syrup was better left up to the bureaucrats at the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA, for its part, finally addressed the matter in mid-2008, ruling in favor of the corn refiners. According to the government, HFCS can be consumed “natural” so long as the glutaraldehyde never comes into physical contact with the syrup.That ruling has done little to convince the public, though, and the food industry has continued to indulge the notion that corn syrup is fake while cane sugar and beet sugar are real. The makers of new, sugar-sweetened soft drinks inevitably tout their all-natural ingredients—according to the Mintel marketing research group, the "natural" claim was more prominent than any other in 2008, appearing on 23 percent of new food and beverage labels.


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