The use of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has become the punching bag of those who are legitimately concerned about the ubiquitous practice of adding large quantities of refined sugar to processed foods, cereals, and to manufactured beverages of all kinds. However, focusing on the perils associated with the use of HFCS while tacitly or explicitly approving the addition of more ‘natural’ sugars to food and beverages is a misrepresentation of the link between the addition of refined sugars to our diet and the current epidemic of obesity and diabetes. The fact is that HFCS and table sugar (sucrose) are identical in their chemical composition and there is no evidence that they have differential effects on the rate of obesity or diabetes. It is the total amount of refined sugar in the diet that is important not whether it comes from sugar cane or beets (sucrose), or from corn (HFCS).
Sucrose, or ordinary table sugar, is chemically classed as a disaccharide in which each molecule is formed by the combination of two simple sugar molecules, one glucose and one fructose. Corn syrup is derived from corn starch and the sugar it contains is 100% glucose which is not as sweet as fructose. To produce a realistic substitute for table sugar, corn syrup is modified to a high-fructose corn syrup that has the same percentage of fructose and level of sweetness as table sugar.
The most ardent critics of the practices of the food industry agree that there are no fundamental chemical differences between sucrose and HFCS. However, it is certain that the introduction of HFCS as an additive to food and beverages has facilitated a large increase in the total amount of refined sugars we consume with its concomitant negative effects on health. The damage being wrought by HFCS is because its often low cost relative to cane sugar has made it possible for food producers to increase the amount of added sugar in their products without having to implement the cost increases that might impact consumer demand. Although food producers, with the help of HFCS, have been able to give consumers the sweetness they seem to crave without requiring them to pay the price, the ultimate cost to the consumers in terms of poor health is likely to be much higher than they bargained for.