High-fructose corn syrup
Vicki Koenig, MS, RD, CDN
While health professionals and researchers debate whether high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is comparable to sugar, many are also debating whether or not HFCS is natural. Is it the same as sugar? Is it natural? Let me shed some light on this.
HFCS is not found in nature
HFCS is an inexpensive sweetener made from genetically-modified corn. It's enzymatically processed from cornstarch into a liquid sweetener. One or two of the enzymes are also genetically engineered. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provides no definition of what the word "natural" means and does not regulate its use on labels.
Still, it's hard to think of HFCS as natural after its complex processing. There is also no organic HFCS available, because organic standards prohibit genetically-modified organisms (GMOs).
HFCS: similar to sugar?
HFCS and sugar both contain the simple sugars fructose and glucose in similar amounts. They are both found in nutritionally depleted products like soda, candy, juice drinks, jams, ketchup and packaged baked goods.
Earlier research suggested HFCS was responsible for the U.S. obesity epidemic. Research conducted in 2008 doesn't support this. Is it the sweetener, the foods or the amount of sweetener in the diet? The source of sweetener doesn't seem to matter. The truth is that we eat too much. HFCS in the U.S. diet mirrors the rise in obesity, but likely did not cause it.
Even if HFCS is metabolized like sugar, it doesn't mean I recommend it
Stonyfield Farm uses only organic approved ingredients in its products. Organic sugar is its natural sweetener. This is a much less-processed form of cane sugar. The processing uses less energy and produces less waste than refined white sugar or HFCS, so there are environmental benefits, too.
Less sugar in Stonyfield yogurt than you might think
The amount of sugar listed on Stonyfield nutrition labels is not all added sugar. It includes the milk sugar lactose, natural fruit sugar and added sugar. That's why 6 ounces of plain yogurt has 12 grams of sugar, yet no added sugar. It's the lactose!
Sugar isn't all bad
Sugar can be used to make healthy foods more appealing. For many, a small amount of added sugar in a healthy food like yogurt makes the taste enjoyable. Otherwise, they might not eat it and get the benefits of calcium, protein and probiotics. If you're going have a sweetened food, it's best to choose a naturally sweetened, healthy one. That's why I recommend you avoid foods that contain HFCS.
For more information:
- Bray GA et al. "Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity." Am J Clin Nutr Apr 2004; 79(4):537–543.
- Fiji Organic Project is an Earth Island Institute program to promote sustainable agriculture in a sugar-producing country.
- Fulgoni V. "High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS): Everything You Wanted to Know, but Were Afraid to Ask." Am J Clin Nutr Dec 2008;88(6):1715S.
- Jenkins DJA et al. "Too much sugar, too much carbohydrate, or just too much?" Am J Clin Nutr 2004;79:711–712.