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High fructose corn syrup not as bad as you think

MCT Campus

New advertising sponsored by the Corn Refiners Association pushes the message that high fructose corn syrup is “made from corn” and is “fine in moderation,” counteracting common beliefs that high fructose corn syrup is unhealthy or unnatural.

A recent study conducted by Saint Louis University revealed in 2007 that a diet of high-fat food combined with high fructose corn syrup and a sedentary lifestyle hinted at dietary danger. The 16 week study which allowed mice to choose when they eat, as opposed to force-feeding them, found evidence that “fructose actually suppresses your fullness, unlike fiber-rich foods, which make you feel full quickly,” according to an article on the study found on the Saint Louis University website. Brent Tiri, professor of internal medicine at the university, concludes from this study that a diet with 40 percent coming from high fat and high fructose corn syrup foods, combined with a sedentary lifestyle, will “have severe repercussions for your liver and other vital organs,” according to the article.

Yet, despite this, the Corn Refiners Association website about high fructose corn syrup,, cites a press release from the American Medical Association in 2008 that declares that high fructose corn syrup “does not appear to contribute to obesity more than other caloric sweeteners.” It also cites a poll conducted by Wakefield, a national polling firm, that states that mothers in the US are more concerned with individual ingredients, like high fructose corn syrup, than the overall caloric intake of the food they are eating.

Professor John Brabson, who teaches Chemistry of Nutrition at Mills, explains the connection scientists are trying to find with obesity and high fructose corn syrup. “What people are trying to figure out is what has changed in the American diet in the last 40 or 50 years that would affect their health, and it was then that high fructose corn syrup was used so widely as a sweetener,” Brabson said. Brabson argues however that this isn’t compelling evidence that high fructose corn syrup is a contributor to bad health, but a suggestion that people at one time consumed it in unhealthy proportions.

Brabson further argues that the issue of American diets and its connection with obesity is more likely related to poor dietary choices, not necessarily one ingredient. “Americans are in a hurry and eating fresh food requires a bit of energy. We’ve become a nation that’s dependent on packaged food in tins or freezers. When you go to the grocery store, this becomes apparent,” Brabson said.

Karen Maggio, associate vice president for Campus Planning and Facilities, argues it is quantity, not type that matters. “I’ve been a registered dietician for 28 years and sugar is sugar – you just want to eat any kind of refined sugar in moderation,” Maggio said.

Refined sugars, such as table sugars, are also made from corn as well as from other sources like sugar cane and beets, Maggio said, and that one should be careful of the overall consumption of sugar.

However, Maggio feels that the commercials are not entirely ethical, that they are leading people to believe that because high fructose corn syrup is from corn, it’s in some way healthy. “I think they’re going a bit overboard [with the commercials]. It’s almost reminiscent of Adam and Eve, where Eve is telling Adam that it’s okay to go and eat it,” Maggio said. Feelings about the sweet surprise aside, Maggio states that it is healthiest to eat sugars naturally occurring in products, rather than any refined sugars. “The rule of thumb is don’t go [for] a refined substance. Eat the food, you go to the source. If you want something to be sweet, you should put juice in it, rather than refined sugars,” Maggio said.

Helen Pak, Clinical Nutritionist at the UC Berkeley Tang Center, agrees that moderation is key and doesn’t feel that limiting the consumption of high fructose corn syrup is necessarily bad. “If people avoid consumption of high fructose corn syrup, they’d really limit a lot of processed food and therefore they’re more likely to prepare their own food, and people who prepare things are more likely [to] eat healthier,” Pak said. Unlike Maggio, Pak doesn’t believe that the commercials are necessarily unfair in arguing that high fructose corn syrup is okay in moderation. “It’s like fast food. People say fast food causes obesity. And, yeah, it’s a contributing factor but we can’t blame McDonald’s or any fast food company for obesity,” Pak said.