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Sugar By Any Other Name Is Just As Sweet... and Safe
Wednesday, October 29, 2008 • Posted October 29, 2008

No doubt you’ve seen those cute TV commercials with two people discussing high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). One offers the other a food or beverage that contains HFCS and an exchange follows something like:

Second person: “That has high fructose corn syrup in it.”

First person: “So?”

Second person: “Well, you know what they say about it.”

First person: “What?”

Second person: “Well you know, uh, that it’s um, well……”

First person: “That it’s made from corn, that it’s all natural, has the same calories as sugar and is fine in moderation?”

So what’s the real story? From a registered dietitian with two degrees in nutrition and over 30 years working in the field, the truth is the body is absolutely unable to distinguish “white table sugar” (or sucrose, its scientific name) from HFCS. Both are made up of about half fructose (the sugar found naturally in fruit) and half glucose (the sugar circulating in the bloodstream and the body’s main source of energy). Since sugar and HFCS are too large to be absorbed intact, they are split into the smaller, individual glucose and fructose molecules, which are absorbed into the bloodstream. Thus, the body has no idea where the fructose and glucose originally came from, sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Just to clarify further, high fructose corn syrup is not higher in fructose than white sugar. It was originally named “high” because it is higher in fructose than regular corn syrup, which is all glucose.

Since sugar and HFCS contain the same amounts of fructose and glucose, they are equal in sweetness and calorie content. Therefore they can be used interchangeably in foods and beverages. Just think of white sugar as cane or beet sugar and HFCS as corn sugar.

Then what’s all the hoopla about? In a few studies people have been given pure fructose at levels much higher than anyone would ever get from eating a normal diet. Fructose acts differently in the body when consumed this way and the results have been mistakenly attributed to high fructose corn syrup. But in studies directly comparing HFCS to sugar, there has been no difference in appetite or feelings of fullness or the way it is handled by the body.

The bottom line: all sugars and foods containing them should be eaten in moderation within a healthful, balanced diet from all of the food groups: whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean meats and other protein-rich foods (like eggs and beans) and low-fat dairy products. As long as calories eaten don’t exceed calories burned, you can indulge in some sweet, extras – cakes, pies, cookies, candy and soft drinks - made with either sugar or high fructose corn syrup. You can get more information at

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