Last week the Corn Refiners Association—tired of being seen as enemy number one in the war on obesity—filed a petition with the FDA to change the name of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) to "corn sugar." The drumbeat of mockery from food purists, as you might imagine, began in earnest. Mary Elizabeth Williams wondered in Salon.com, "Who'd have thought the day would come when anything not a stripper or a Pomeranian would actually want to be called sugar?" Pretty funny.
Less amusing, though, is the science behind the claim that HFSC is a unique contributor to obesity. We can ridicule the Corn Refiners Association's image overhaul till the corn-fed cows come home but, according to studies published in leading journals, considerable evidence suggests that HFCS is being blamed for the expansion of the American gut with data that is, at best, inconclusive.
In 2008 the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, in a study comparing HFCS and sucrose, reported that "sucrose and HFCS do not have substantially different short-term endocrine/metabolic effects." A year later an article published in the Journal of Nutrition explained that "the data suggest that HFCS yields similar metabolic responses to other caloric sweeteners such as sucrose." Compared to fructose-based sweeteners, HFCS led to increases in triglycerides that were roughly equivalent. In his assessment of the relative dangers of HFCS, Dr. Jim Laidler wrote last month (in the well regarded site Science-Based Medicine) that "the data suggest that the best choice is to reduce intake of all sweeteners containing fructose," including table sugar, honey, and agave syrup. "Sugar is sugar," the corn lobby recently declared, and while our impulse might be to scoff at such a convenient simplification, the leading research suggests that—at least with respect to obesity—it might be right.