Battle over corn syrup hits shelves

The battle over high fructose corn syrup has reached the front lines.

Both H.J. Heinz Co. and the Campbell Soup Company have reformulated products to replace corn syrup with sugar. The Heinz ketchup is branded “Simply Heinz” while Campbell removed the syrup from its “Heart Smart” Prego pasta sauce.

corn_syrup_bottlesHigh fructose corn syrup is used in everything from soda to cookies to hamburger rolls.

The move comes as researchers and consumers voice concern about alleged links between corn syrup and obesity in America. The jury is still out on the data. A research team at Princeton University found that rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than those with access to table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same. Consumption of corn syrup also boosted the levels of fats called triglycerides circulating in the rats’ blood.

“Some people have claimed that high-fructose corn syrup is no different than other sweeteners when it comes to weight gain and obesity, but our results make it clear that this just isn’t true, at least under the conditions of our tests,” said psychology professor Bart Hoebel, who specializes in the neuroscience of appetite, weight and sugar addiction.

corn earBut scientists at the Mayo Clinic say research studies have yielded mixed results about the possible adverse effects of consuming high-fructose corn syrup. While concerns have been raised about how high-fructose corn syrup is processed by the body, “There is insufficient evidence to say that high-fructose corn syrup is less healthy than are other types of added sweeteners,” says Mayo Clinic nutritionist Jennifer K. Nelson, M.S., R.D., L.D.

That hasn’t stopped consumers and some manufacturers from switching back to sugar. To counter the groundswell, the Corn Refiners Association (CRA), the national trade group representing the corn refining  industry of the United States, has gone on the offensive. It’s launched a TV commercial called “Maze” that argues a person’s body can’t tell the difference between corn syrup and sugar because they are “nearly compositionally equivalent.” And it’s created a website called Sweet Surprise that attempts to refute health claims detrimental to the industry.

If that fails to convince consumers to stick with syrup, the CRA has petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to allow manufacturers the option of using the term corn sugar as an alternative name for high fructose corn syrup.

Where does all this leave consumers? Where we’ve been with coffee, wine and a dozen other foods and beverages. Best to read the research, and the labels. Eat slowly, chew your food, and despite what your mother said, don’t clean your plate. This might be a case where less is more.