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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Corn syrup neither as sweet nor sour as some claim

    High-fructose corn syrup, or HFCS, is an evil, artificial compound found in everything from soda to granola bars, and you should avoid it like the plague. It’s more calorie dense than regular cane sugar. It inflates your sense of hunger so you want more. It contains poisons like carbonyl compounds and leads to obesity, hyperactivity and shrunken sex organs.

    If you believe the above set of questionable claims, don’t worry: you’re not alone in accepting these bizarre smears. One article in the Wildcat last week even criticized HFCS, calling it “”icky”” and implying that it’s artificial.

    HFCS defenders assert that there’s no reason to fear corn syrup, though some of their statements are shoddy under scrutiny. For example, they claim that HFCS is all-natural. HFCS is nothing but specially refined corn syrup, little different from sugar syrup, and it does meet the Food and Drug Administration’s definition of a natural sweetener. However, a genetically-modified enzyme is required to produce it.

    None of that should matter because “”natural”” is not a synonym for “”healthy”” and words like “”artificial”” should not set off alarm bells. Sweetening things by dumping sugar into them, be it HFCS or another form of sugar, is very “”artificial”” in a more noteworthy sense.

    Scientific research suggests that HFCS has negative effects on the body. But much of this research does not specifically test the effects of HFCS by comparing it to a similar high-fructose sweetener, like fruit juice or cane sugar (which is mostly sucrose, a fructose-glucose compound). Some studies observe a correlation between the use of HFCS and the frequency of obesity and diabetes, but correlation doesn’t imply causality.

    Many further studies have shown no significant difference between HFCS and other sweeteners, although some of these have been funded by – you guessed it – the corn industry.

    Take-home message: You should be skeptical of both pro- and anti-HFCS arguments, but there’s not much reason to think that HFCS is particularly bad. Lest it sound like I’m turning into a corn apologist, there are still a few reasons why you might want to avoid HFCS.

    First, it does not taste as good as cane sugar. Here’s an experiment you can perform. Buy a bottle of run-of-the-mill, made-in-the-USA Coca-Cola. Then head to Jett’s Wildcat and buy a glass bottle of Mexican Coke. You’ll find that the Mexican Coke tastes much better. Mexican Coke is made with cane sugar, whereas most American Coke is made with HFCS. Nutritionally they’re about the same, but there’s no way you can claim that they taste identical.

    Soft drink companies like Jones Soda Company have been making drinks with sugar rather than HFCS as a response to the HFCS hysteria. It’s unfortunate that companies base business decisions on misinformation, but this is still a net good because it’s a victory for the free market.

    Speaking of the free market, there’s an excellent economic reason to avoid HFCS. Cane sugar is cheaper to produce, and it would be much more common than HFCS in the United States if the Feds weren’t doing everything possible to stamp it out. Corn subsidies and sugar tariffs artificially make HFCS competitive in the U.S.

    I never thought the day would come when I’d agree with a libertarian about anything, but it’s time we let the market get a stronger handle on sweeteners in the U.S. Of course, this requires some political changes. As long as corn stronghold Iowa remains the site of both major parties’ first presidential caucuses, and as long as it’s trendy to be harsh toward major sugar exporters like Cuba, presidential candidates will be required to pander to the corn-industrial complex.

    Finally, HFCS is bad for you. So is cane sugar, and so are fruit juices which give few of the nutritional benefits of real fruit. Juice and soda are nothing but sugar water, and yet they remain staples of most American diets. Get used to diet soda or, better yet, just drink water. Moreover, avoid foods that are overly sweetened with added sugars and enjoy a diet rich in whole, nutritious foods.

    To be fair, the claims the Corn Refiners Association make for their product are more truthful than those put forth by their crypto-Luddite opponents. HFCS will not murder your parents or cause aliens to burst out of your chest. It’s probably here to stay, so learn to enjoy it as you ought to enjoy any sweetener – in moderation. Leave the paranoia out of your diet and rely on good, old-fashioned common sense.

    – Taylor Kessinger is a senior majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology, math, and physics. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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