Thursday, September 09, 2010


I was having a conversation with someone recently about Sara Lee replacing their High Fructose Corn Syrup ingredient with ‘High Fructose’ table/cane/beet sugar, and they coined the phrase “ose” gate. I thought that summed it up well.

So what is the “ose” gate scandal/conspiracy? It is a combination of things. Several scams if you will. First it is the ‘sugar switcheroo’. Unfortunately, many people confuse the compound fructose with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Even worse, because it is “high fructose” corn syrup, they think that it is a sweetener that is really high in fructose compared to others. The undeniable truth is the fructose levels in HFCS are about 50%. But when you look at any other type of sugar, it is also 50% fructose. So, if fructose is bad, then HFCS and regular sugar are equally bad. It is all in a name. If we are comparing sweeteners based on fructose content, we could just as easily call table sugar “High Fructose” table sugar- let’s start calling it what it is ‘HFTS.’ The scandalous part is that food marketers are catering to this ignorance by advertising that they have removed HFCS from their foods and switched it with sugar. It makes no difference in terms of fructose content or calories, and consumers are being duped by the old ‘switcheroo.’

So, if it makes no difference in fructose content, or calories, then it likely will make no difference on obesity rates, yet that is the next scam. The ‘big fat lies’ scam. Opponents, (or conspiracy theorists) often like to claim that the massive use of HFCS is leading to obesity, but advocating that we replace it with HFTS (my new acronym). It makes no sense, but anti-agricultural activists and politicians are making hay with it. The argument that sugar sweetened beverages are related to obesity is shaky at best anyway. (1) Besides that, according to USDA data, the most abundant sweeteners in American's diets is not HFCS but HFTS (2) (both are about equal but HFTS as aways had the lead)
Then there are the attacks on farm programs, which sometimes comes from both democrats and republicans. Those on the left don’t like the idea of subsidizing politically incorrect farming practices (more on this later) and some from the right like to point out unintended consequences of government policies. The misconception is that subsidies lead to more corn production and cheaper HFCS and then cheaper high calorie foods- that lead to obesity. (I’ve already addressed obesity). Research from UC Davis blows this myth out of the water. If we get rid of all corn subsidies the impact on corn production would not be large enough to have a major impact on retail prices or consumption (they estimated the impact on would decrease consumption by at most .2%) (3) Subsidies , which amount to less than ½ of 1% of our federal budget become a scape goat for all of our problems.
Next, there is the dilemma of the Omnivore’s Dilemma:

“If you eat industrially, you are made of corn. It holds together your McNuggets, it sweetens your soda pop, it fattens your meat, it is everywhere. It is fed to us in many forms, because it is cheap- a dollar buys you 875 calories in soda pop but only 170 in fruit juice. A McDonalds meal was analyzed as almost entirely corn."-Michael Pollan Omnivore's Dilemma (4)

This is bad how? The fact that modern family farmers are able to feed the world in so many different ways and do it cheaply should be considered a miracle. Although not his intention, the quote from Pollan is actually a statement of accomplishment for farm families everywhere!

Finally, there is the myth that HFCS is the product of industrial agriculture and industrial farms, which are unsustainable and are having a negative impact on our environment. These beliefs have made modern family farming practices politically incorrect, or socially irresponsible in the minds of many consumers and politicians. According to USDA data, 98% of all farms in the U.S. are family farms and they account for 85% of all production.(5) Large family farms are more diversified (5) and benefit the community according to recent research at Iowa State(6) In terms of sustainability, the technology used on modern family farms has led to drastic reductions in greenhouse gases, decreased soil erosion, decreased groundwater pollution, improved water use efficiency, and has increased wildlife diversity and food safety. (7)

So, to review I have outlined the 5 ‘sweet’ scams that define the "ose"gate conspiracy:
1) The Sugar Switcheroo Scam
2) Big Fat Lies Scam
3) The Subsidy Scape Goat Scam
4) The Dilemma of the Omnivore’s Dilemma
5) The Political Correctness Scam

What can you do? You can support your local family corn farmer by having a coke (or beverage of your choice) sweetened with HFCS. Maybe get that with a supersized value meal at McDonalds.

1 Adolescent beverage habits and changes in weight over time: findings from Project EAT1,2,3Am J Clin Nutr (October 28, 2009). doi:10.3945/ajcn.2009.27573
Nutrition July-August 2007, Volume 23, Issues 7-8, Pages 557-563 "Is sugar-sweetened beverage consumption associated with increased fatness in children?"
3 Farm Subsidies and Obesity in the United States
Julian M. Alston, Daniel A. Sumner, and Stephen A. Vosti
Agricultural Resource Economics Update
V. 11 no. Nov/Dec 007
U.C. Davis
5 Structure and Finances of U.S. Farms: Family Farm Report, 2007 Edition / EIB-24 Economic Research Service/USDA
6 Large Agriculture Improves Rural Iowa Communities
7 Matt Bogard. "Sustainable Agriculture Bibliography" 2010 Available at:


Cynthia1770 said...

My google alert picked up your post. I could feel the heat from your prose.
Let's put aside the sugar tariff/farm subsidy issues and just compare table sugar with HFCS.
First, table sugar (sucrose) is a disaccharide of fructose linked to glucose. The ratio can only be
1:1 or 50%:50%. HFCS-55, used to sweeten all national brands of soda is 55% fructose: 45% glucose.
This may appear to be just 5% different than sucrose, until you sit down and do the math.
55%:45% = 55/45 =1.22
This mean in every Coke there is,
compared to glucose, 22% more fructose. This unexpected difference comes from the fact that in any two component solution, if you increase the percentage of one component, by definition the other must decrease. (The total must equal 100%). In my humble opinion, this
fructose>>glucose imbalance over
the last two decades has contributed to our health woes of obesity and type II diabetes.
HFCS of all grades is only a mixture of fructose and glucose. The corn chemists can tweak the percentage of fructose anyway they want. After all, the ingredients on boxes, cans, and bottles only list "HFCS" not the percentage fructose. I have always been stymied why HFCS-50 wasn't used. That would have at least simulated sucrose. For whatever reason they chose to use a fructose rich sweetener--making
it sweeter so end manufacturers could use less, making it sweeter so the same sweeteness could be imparted with fewer calories (our fetish), or perhaps they found out a fructose rich sweetener is slightly addictive (my conjecture), they forgot or overlooked the fact that the
fructose: glucose imbalance would be metabolically hazardous to our livers, pancreas, and arteries.
Sugar is not saint,but it always 1:1.
Take care,
Cynthia Papierniak, M.S.

Matt Bogard said...

Very great comments. And, your assumption is correct, I was aware of the 55/45 ratio, but went with the 50/50 approximation. I love empiricism, and your simple breakdown of the ratio (1.22) makes a great point. And the question of why a 50/50 HFCS formulation was not used introduces another interesting element to the discussion.

Regarding your comment "they forgot or overlooked the fact that the
fructose: glucose imbalance would be metabolically hazardous" I am aware of research that notes metabolic hazards associated with fructose, but is there any research that you are aware of that shows that the increase in fructose (based on the ratio you described) is large enough to have a statistically significantly worse impact on health than sugar at 1:1?

If you can provide me with those citations I would be very interested. I think that is the question that may get to the heart of the debate.

Thanks for your comments.

Cynthia1770 said...

Hi Matt,
Thank you for taking me seriously.
Most writers slam my math. But I have a little experience in this area since I was medical research technician for over 20 years.
When the AJCN starting publishing their short term studies (sometimes only 24 hours) on the metabolic effects of fructose vs glucose they did not study HFCS
vs. sugar. Having read many of their published papers, I got the vague feeling that they didn't want to find any difference. The lead author on many of the papers,
Anderson, even entitiled one of his reviews as "Much Ado about Nothing". Now there are more long term studies done with rats comparing HFCS vs. sugar which is
of course the main issue. The Princeton study gave rats rat chow
sweetened with HFCS-55 (equivalent to half-strength soda), and compared the results to rats fed sucrose sweetened chow. Both rats gained weight, but he rats fed the HFCS-55 sweetened chow got fatter and developed symptoms similar to metabolic syndrome.
I'm not sure of the Journal but
the lead author is Hoebel.
As I said I was a research technician, but now I am a full time piano teacher and trying to get my piano studio started for fall classes. When I get the specifics I'll send them.
Take care,

lead au

Cynthia1770 said...

Hi Matt,
The rat study at Princeton.
"HFCS causes characteristics of obesity in rats..."
lead author Bart Hoebel
Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and
Behavior (online Journal available
26 Feb 2010.

Now, here is some interesting
information about HFCS straight
from ADM's website.
"We offer Cornsweet 42, which can be used to replace up to 100% sucrose, CornSweet 55, used in carbonated beverages, and CornSweet 90 which
has an intesnse sweetness that makes it ideal for sweetening foods and beverages without adding a lot of calories."

Now, this is news to me. I was under the impression (and so are other authors) that HFCS-90
served as the stock solution
for HFCS-42 and HFCS-55. However,
it appears that it is used in
some dietetic products. Imagine
the poor bloke trying to shed a few pounds. He sees something that
is low-fat, lo-cal and buys it not realizing that he's receiving
a whopping bolus of free fructose.
And now the CRA wants to lump all their corn syrups and high fructose corn syrups under the gentle name "corn sugar."

Eric said...

Yep, people are being fed a pack of lies.

Why doesn't the producers use 50/50 HFCS? Because with HFCS 55 you get a sweeter taste with *fewer calories*. Switching back to sucrose means going with a less-sweet taste ( yes, it tastes different ) for the same number of calories. They could keep it the same sweetness, but that would mean upping the calories 25%! HFCS 90 is used in some low-cal products since you need half the calories to produce the same sweetness.

The princeton study was poorly done and the author is making wild claims that are not sustained by the paper. All you have to do is ready the discussion page on wikipedia ( HFCS ) to see just how badly the author has misrepresented the study results.

The biggest scam of all is inverted sugar syrup. Most of the HFCS -> sugar products are using inverted sugar syrup which is sucrose that has been broken down into glucose and fructose already ( 50/50 ) so all of the HFCS "problems" apply equally to these as well but you can't tell from the label.

Honey is chemically difficult to differentiate from HFCS 42. Testing for adulterated or flat out substitution of HFCS for honey looks for trace proteins in the product rather than its glucose/fructose content.

Even if producers are using straight sucrose much of it would breakdown through mixing with common ingredients, heating, and time.

Fructose is known to cause health problems in quantities that would make the calorie count of the products just as much or more of a risk than its fructose content.

Oh, and if 1:1 is the only safe amount then we have to cut out most "natural" products like fruit do not contain a 1:1 ratio.

Sorry for rambling, trying to touch on a lot of points at once.