A new study says high fructose corn syrup is no worse than sugar if you’re trying to lose weight. While the very premise of this study is a bit confusing — anyone trying to lose weight would be wise to cut both from their diets as much as possible — it does help answer a controversial issue in dietary science right now: Is high fructose corn syrup nutritionally different from “real” sugar in any important ways? It looks like in terms of weight gain, the answer may be no. But need we remind you of the 10.3 million other reasons you don’t want high fructose corn syrup in your diet?
The study, conducted by researchers from the Rippe Lifestyle Institute and the University of Rhode Island, included 247 overweight participants who were placed on one of four low-calorie diets. Each of the four diets contained the same amount of overall calories and the same amount of calories from a sugar component. The only difference was in the proportion of sucrose (i.e., table sugar) or high-fructose corn syrup that made up the diet’s sweet spot.
At the end of the study, the degree of decrease in weight, BMI, waist size and overall body mass between all four groups was similar. Neither those on a more sugary diet or a more corn syrupy diet showed significantly more or less success, and the researchers concluded that there is no unique relationship between consuming high-fructose corn syrup and obesity. They added:
Common misunderstandings about HFCS have distorted public perceptions, pressuring food manufacturers to replace HFCS with sucrose and municipal and state legislators to mandate removal of HFCS from school nutrition programs. Our data suggest that such actions are pointless and potentially misleading to consumers, since HFCS and sucrose are nutritionally interchangeable.
Huh. That conclusion strikes me as a little broad, considering the scope of the study, but a quick glance just below the conclusion provides a clue as to why. Shock me shock me shock me, the Rippe Institute received funding for the study from the Corn Refiners Association! The Corn Refiners Association is a trade association representing producers of corn starch, corn oil and high fructose corn syrup. It’s recently been battling the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the right to re-brand corn syrup as “corn sugar” (a proposition the FDA ruled against).
Now, this study was published in a peer-reviewed journal and there’s no reason to believe there’s anything wrong with its conclusion regarding corn syrup, sugar and weight loss. I’m not trying to suggest conspiracy! But the fact that corn syrup calories aren’t somehow magically more fattening than table-sugar calories doesn’t mean the two are nutritionally interchangeable.
For one thing, there’s evidence that high fructose corn syrup is bad for our brains, hampering our ability to learn and remember information and leading to a decline in synaptic activity similar to that seen in Alzheimer’s disease. It also interferes with the secretion of leptin, a critical hunger hormone that helps tell our brains when our bellies our full, and with how our body absorbs certain nutrients. One recent study led by a former FDA toxicologist found corn syrup hinders our production and uptake of calcium and zinc — a nutritional concern in and of itself, but also noteworthy because zinc is critical for eliminating toxins like mercury from our bodies. That’s especially bad considering almost half of commercially available high-fructose corn syrup and a third of brand name food and beverages with high-fructose corn syrup as the first or second ingredient were found to contain mercury.
Photo: Burt Chiropractic