Enough Is Enough: There's Only One Sugar... And It's Not High-Fructose Corn Syrup

When fed misinformation and hyped headlines, consumers get a raw deal
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In recent weeks, there has been a rash of inaccurate reports about all-natural sugar. These reports have continually misrepresented the facts surrounding several scientific studies, overlooked biological differences between all-natural sugar and man-made sweeteners and ignored government data. Rather than educating consumers, they have only contributed to greater confusion about sugar and its role as part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.

This confusion has been amplified, at least in part, by the multi-million dollar advertising campaign coordinated and funded by members of the Corn Refiners Association — the manufacturers of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). These members include agri-conglomerates Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill and Corn Products International, to name a few. Their false and misleading ads claim that "sugar is sugar" and "your body can't tell the difference" between HFCS and natural sugar, despite the fact that HFCS is a man-made sweetener that is chemically distinct and derived from a different source (corn) than common table sugar. This advertising campaign is the basis of an ongoing federal lawsuit filed by sugar farmers, in which a federal judge has already ruled that the plaintiffs have demonstrated "a reasonable probability of success on their argument that the statements are false."

"Enough is enough," says sugar's attorney Mark Lanier. "Neither HFCS nor fructose is the same as sucrose, what consumers know as sugar, and has been a part of diets for more than 2,000 years. Consumers need the facts about how sweeteners differ chemically and how the body can tell the difference between them. The Sugar Association seeks to educate consumers and encourages the media and researchers to embrace a scientific dialogue based on facts and not scare tactics."     

Those facts are clear on several important issues, including:

--The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines sugar as sucrose — the naturally occurring sugar found most abundantly in sugarcane and sugarbeets, and comprised of equal parts: 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose. 

--Sucrose is molecularly different than HFCS due to a meaningful, naturally occurring bond between its fructose and glucose molecules.  This bond must be broken as part of the metabolism of sucrose.  HFCS does not have this bond.  HFCS also comes in many formulations (such as HFCS-42, HFCS-55 and HFCS-90).  Researchers have also found, for example, that HFCS in beverages can contain as much as 65 percent unbonded fructose.  There is only one sucrose.

--Data compiled by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), when loss adjusted for spoilage and other waste, show that per capita consumption of all-natural sugar declined from an average of 21.44 teaspoons per day in 1970 to 13.90 in 2010 — more than 35 percent. 

--Inaccurate terminology like "sugary sodas or sugar-sweetened soft drinks" is consistently used in the media, when in fact, according to USDA data, about ninety percent of all caloric, sweetened beverages sold in the United States contain only HFCS, not sugar. Moreover, in the past three years, only four percent of the US sugar supply was used by the beverage industry.

The most recent example of this alarming trend came from headlines claiming "Sugar can make you dumb, US scientists warn" and "Too Much Sugar Makes Us Dumber." These particular headlines were prompted by a study at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) designed to assess the effects of omega-3 fats and fructose on memory in rats. The study did not test the effect of all-natural sugar.

Because fructose was used as a research tool in the UCLA study, it seemed to suggest that pure fructose could cause memory loss.  Headlines proclaiming anything other than this — such as ones that read "Sugar can make you dumb," completely misrepresent the study and misinform consumers.