Why 'No High Fructose Corn Syrup' Isn't Always Healthier
There's more to watching your sugar intake than avoiding high fructose corn syrup.
I recently came across a package of gummy candies that touted tons of health claims. The box read "made with real fruit juice" and offered a laundry list of additional ingredients you won't find inside, such as synthetic colors, artificial flavors, or high fructose corn syrup. But when I flipped the little package over, to my surprise, the very first ingredient was corn syrup.
I know high fructose corn syrup and corn syrup are separate ingredients, so the label wasn't technically lying. But I suddenly questioned everything I knew about sugar. Should I care about high fructose corn syrup in my food? Should I not care about regular corn syrup? I turned to Cooking Light's registered dietitians for the answers to all of my sugar-related questions.
What Is Corn Syrup?
The two are actually very different products that derive from the same source. Corn syrup is pure glucose, the same simple sugar you find in table sugar, and comes directly from corn. You can often find this ingredient in the baking aisle, and it is often used in homemade ice cream, sorbets, syrups, pies, and frozen ice pops to avoid a crystallized sugar texture.
What Is High Fructose Corn Syrup?
High fructose corn syrup got a bad reputation in the past, and is still fighting the stigma. High fructose corn syrup is regular corn syrup that's been processed so some of the glucose is converted to fructose. This results in a syrup that is much sweeter than granulated sugar and corn syrup, but can do the same bodily damage as any other added sugar. Research has proven that there is no direct link between high fructose corn syrup and increased rates of obesity.
What Should I Be Concerned About?
People who want to watch their sugar intake should focus on added sugar as a whole, instead of naturally occurring sugars. Fructose and lactose, sugars that naturally occur in fruit and dairy respectively, are not necessarily something to worry about. These typically come with additional nutrients we need, and are very difficult to overdose on, says Cooking Light's Food and Nutrition Director Brierley Horton, M.S., R.D.
The most important thing to understand is that sugar is sugar. At Cooking Light we do use corn syrup in some of our recipes, because sugar is a necessary ingredient in some cooking and baking, according to Assistant Nutrition Editor Jamie Vespa M.S., R.D. She explains that we don't use high fructose corn syrup, not for any nutritional reason, but because it's typically used in packaged items and processed foods.
When looking at packages in the future, Horton recommends keeping an eye out for sugars that are in disguise. Terms you may find are cane juice, sorgum, juice concentrate, granulated sugar, brown sugar, brown rice syrup, coconut sugar, agave, honey, maple syrup, and corn syrup. Sugar also hides under the alias of words that end in -ose such as glucose, dextrose, and lactose.
The bottom line: If you're looking to cut down on added sugars, there aren't any varieties that are better or worse than another. A product advertising "no high fructose corn syrup" may have additional added sugars to compensate for flavor, so it's more of a marketing ruse than anything else. Make a habit of reading labels, and don't fear one added sugar over another.