“The Sweetener Formerly Known as High Fructose Corn Syrup”

Recently, High Fructose Corn Syrup has been trying to reinvent its image like it’s Madonna.  In an attempt to improve the negative image of the highly criticized high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), the Corn Refiners Association—which represents the makers of the processed sweetener—has petitioned the United States Food and Drug Administration to allow it to start calling the ingredient “corn sugar”.

Although they insist that the name change is simply a way to clear up confusion about the product, the term “corn sugar” seems an oversimplification intended to mask the fact that it is a highly-processed food.

The Corn Refiner’s Association has already started running a set of television ads, referring to HFCS as “corn sugar”.   In one  ad, a mother who “cares about what her family eats” tells viewers that “whether it’s corn sugar or cane sugar, your body can’t tell the difference”. 

Oh really?  Sure, your body may not be able to tell the difference between the two sugars, but that doesn’t change the fact that HFCS is a highly processed product.

The “corn sugar” title gives the impression that the syrup is pure—like the sugar just comes right out of the corn.  In reality, HFCS is anything but “natural”.  High-fructose corn syrup is made in industrial factories from the starch extracted from corn.  The starch is mechanically treated with enzymes to make glucose, and then the glucose is treated with other enzymes to turn about half of it into fructose. 

As Marion Nestle, author of Food Politics, points out, “Increasing evidence suggests that the metabolism of fructose—which differs from that of glucose—is associated with abnormalities.  This means it’s best to reduce intake of fructose from table sugar as well as HFCS.”

 According to market research firm NPD Group, about 58% of Americans say they are concerned that high-fructose corn syrup poses a health risk. The “confusion” the industry wants to clear up with the name change, it seems, is in fact the reality that eating a lot of junk made with HFCS is bad for us.

On top of that, HFCS is more than likely to be manufactured from genetically modified corn, since most corn grown in the U.S. is genetically modified.

Michael Pollan, author of the Omnivore’s Dilemma, suggests that giving HFCS a name that communicates to consumers the highly-processed nature of the ingredient is the best solution. 

His suggestion for a new name?  “Enzymatically Altered Corn Glucose”.  As Pollan states, “The name connotes a highly-processed, novel food ingredient, which has always been the best reason to avoid it: not because it necessarily worse for you than sugar, but because it is a marker for a whole class of processed foods we’d do well to keep out of our diet.

If you could rename high fructose corn syrup, what would you name it?  Would your title cover up its true processed identity, or tell consumers what it really is?

Comments Closed


  1. Sean
    Posted October 6, 2010 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    High Fructose Corn Syrup can’t hold a corn ear to Madonna. Plus her music is much healthier.

  2. Stan Scobie
    Posted October 6, 2010 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Saying your body cant tell the difference and then later saying that:

    “Increasing evidence suggests that the metabolism of fructose—which differs from that of glucose—is associated with abnormalities. ”

    is confusing.

    Stan Scobie, Binghamton, NY

  3. AYS
    Posted October 6, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    I disagree with the CRA’s statement about sugars. Your body CAN tell the difference between glucose and fructose. They induce differenct metabolic effects. Studies have shown a relationship between obesity and the overconsumption of HFCS, which at this point is nearly impossible to avoid if you buy food off the shelves in a grocery store. Educating the public is the only way to fight back, so thanks for this article.

  4. Alison Geering-Kline
    Posted October 6, 2010 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the comments! Educating the public about these issues is definitely one of main goals of our articles.

    Stan, I’m sorry that the quote was unclear. Here is the link to the full article that I took the quote from: http://www.foodpolitics.com/?s=hfcs

  5. Mary Brune
    Posted October 11, 2010 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Thank you for this post! It’s awesome. It really makes you wonder how stupid these manufactures think we are. Is there a counter measure to their petition? Is there any way that the public can weigh-in on the process to stop this cover up? If so, sign me up!