Why "HFCS-Free" Doesn't Mean Healthy

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Thanks to Phil Lempert, the Supermarket Guru, for alerting me to the current HFCS-free sales boom. HFCS, of course, is High Fructose Corn Syrup, the liquid sweetener made from corn (see previous posts). Food marketers have gotten the message that many people consider HFCS to be the new trans fat, even though it is not much different biologically from common table sugar (sucrose).

HFCS is replaced easily by sucrose, which used to be much more expensive. Now, because of the use of corn for ethanol, sucrose is only slightly more expensive than HFCS.

Click on the table to see the overall 13 percent growth in sales over the last year, with products like HFCS-free milk drinks, juices, salad dressings, and teas registering 1,500 percent to 16,000 percent increases. Like "trans fat-free," the term "HFCS-free" is a calorie distractor. It, too, will make you forget about the calories.

The irony is that white table sugar--formerly a leading target of "eat less" messages--suddenly has a health aura. Marketers have wasted no time moving in to use that aura to sell the same old products.

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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