My view on the debate over high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is in line with those of The American Dietetic Association and other medical societies: HFCS is no different from table sugar.
This perspective was reinforced last week in a discussion with one of my former professors, an esteemed biochemist now retired from The Ohio State University (where I earned my doctoral degree). He gave me a refresher course on the metabolism of sugar.
HFCS is manufactured form corn syrup, which undergoes an enzymatic process to increase its fructose component, making it about half glucose and half fructose - just like sucrose (table sugar). Thus, the label "high fructose" is somewhat confusing: HFCS has more fructose than regular corn syrup but also has an equal amount of glucose. Some critics claim that this process alters metabolism, thus causing diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome; however, there is little evidence to support this theory.
And now, the controversy over HFCS has brought another issue into play - the role of fructose, the sugar found in fruit. Enough already!
The really important issue here is consumer confidence - confidence in what we as nutrition professionals recommend. The news isn't good. For example, the International Food and Information Council's latest survey reveals a disturbing trend: Consumers are less concerned about their weight and do not count calories.
I am concerned that by delving so deeply into food ingredient/ processing and by making pronouncements based on so little real proof, we are creating unnecessary fear in the minds of consumers and undercutting our voice of authority in food and nutrition. I am concerned that debates like the HFCS skirmish push consumers to disregard our recommendations. Think about it: Lately, even newscasters and talk shows roll their eyes over the "next round" of nutrition advice."
Yes, it is important to have a conversation - and a debate when necessary - about the ingredients in our food, but let's not create so much fear that we destroy Americans' confidence in their food supply. Behind all the noise is a simple fact: Products containing HFCS can be part of a well-balanced diet of smaller portions and fewer calories. That's what we should be teaching.