Is Sugar Really Healthier Than Corn Syrup?
Why everything you've been told about sweets is wrong.
Mon Mar. 14, 2011 2:30 AM PDT
It's been ages since I've reached for a Mountain Dew, but when PepsiCo introduced its Throwback line of "retro" sodas in 2009, I was tempted. Its "real sugar" sweetener seemed much more appealing than the high-fructose corn syrup that's been ubiquitous in sodas since the mid-1980s. Clearly, I wasn't alone. Catering to the sensibilities of the marketplace, Starbucks, Snapple, Kraft, and food giant ConAgra have all recently ditched HFCS in favor of sugar. This sea change hasn't escaped the notice of the Corn Refiners Association. Last September, after blowing more than $30 million on ads aimed at saving corn syrup's faltering rep (if you think HFCS is any worse than sugar, "You're in for a sweet surprise!"), the trade group finally threw in the towel and petitioned the FDA to let it rebrand its product as "corn sugar."*
This earned the refiners plenty of flak, but you can hardly blame them for trying. After years of flogging by nutritionists and foodies, HFCS has become, well, a four-letter word. This wasn't always so. Back in the '70s, table sugar (a.k.a. sucrose) was the bad guy. People associated it (rightly) with tooth decay and diabetes, whereas fructose, the predominant sugar in fruit, seemed a more natural option. Gary Taubes, author of the nutritional bestseller Good Calories, Bad Calories, explains that manufacturers of items like Snapple and sweetened yogurt didn't want sugar in the first few ingredients, because it made their products appear unhealthy. So corn-syrup marketers capitalized on fructose's good reputation, and by the '80s, food and beverage manufacturers were switching to HFCS in droves.