Answering Consumer Questions

Top 12 Customer Questions, and How You Can Answer Them.

To help answer concerns about high fructose corn syrup, we have provided answers to the most commonly asked consumer questions. Any of this information may be used to help you respond to your customers or the media.

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What is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)?

High fructose corn syrup got its name from the fact that it is high in fructose relative to corn syrup. Many people are surprised to hear that high fructose corn syrup is almost identical to table sugar and honey. It is composed of virtually the same amounts of the simple sugars—glucose and fructose.1

According to the American Heart Association, “Many consumers mistakenly believe that high-fructose corn syrup is pure fructose. High-fructose corn syrup is composed of either 42% or 55% fructose and is similar in composition to table sugar (sucrose).”2

1. White JS. 2008. Straight talk about high-fructose corn syrup: what it is and what it ain't. Am J Clin Nutr 88(6):1716S-1721S. http://www.ajcn.org/content/88/6/1716S.full
2. American Heart Association, Dietary Sugars Intake and Cardiovascular Health, Circulation, August 24, 2009. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/early/2009/08/24/CIRCULATIONAHA.109.192627.full.pdf

Is high fructose corn syrup worse than sugar?

High fructose corn syrup and sugar are nearly identical in composition since both contain approximately the same amount of simple sugars (approximately 50% glucose and 50% fructose). They also the same number of calories and your body cannot tell the difference between high fructose corn syrup and sugar.1

In fact, registered dietitian Becky Hand noted, “research has shown that there are no significant differences between HFCS and sugar (sucrose) when it comes to the production of insulin, leptin (a hormone that regulates body weight and metabolism), ghrelin (the "hunger" hormone), or the changes in blood glucose levels. In addition, satiety studies done on HFCS and sugar (sucrose) have found no difference in appetite regulation, feelings of fullness, or short-term energy intake.”2

Robert J. Davis, PhD, from Emory University, Rollins School of Public Health told the Huffington Post, “Just because a product contains an alternative to HFCS -- whether sugar, fruit juice concentrate, brown rice syrup or agave nectar -- doesn't necessarily make it more healthful.”3

1. Hanover LM, White JS. 1993. Manufacturing, composition, and applications of fructose. Am J Clin Nutr 58(suppl 5):724S-732S.
2. Beck Hand, R.D. Spark People, http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=486
3. Dr. Robert J. Davis, Emory University, Rollins School of Public Health, “Top 10 Food Label Tricks to Avoid in 2012”, Huffington Post, 1/3/2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-j-davis-phd/food-labels_b_1173411.html

Aren’t most people avoiding high fructose corn syrup?

Although consumers are becoming more mindful of their health, they continue to buy products made with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) at the same rate.1 This behavior may be caused in part by consumers realizing the relative importance of moderation over avoiding any particular ingredient. In fact, a recent study shows that even the most “health conscious” consumers are nearly five times more concerned about total sugars than they are about HFCS.2

1. The Sweetener360 is a custom research study commissioned by the Corn Refiners Association and completed in part by Nielsen and Mintel Consulting, 2014
2. Ibid

Is high fructose corn syrup responsible for the rising rates of obesity and diabetes?

There is no scientific evidence that suggests high fructose corn syrup is uniquely responsible for people becoming obese. The American Medical Association stated in a press release that, "After studying current research, the American Medical Association concluded that high fructose corn syrup does not appear to contribute more to obesity than other caloric sweeteners…"1 The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) similarly noted that recent studies "consistently found little evidence that HFCS differs uniquely from sucrose and other nutritive sweeteners in metabolic effects."2

Similar to misunderstandings around obesity, high fructose corn syrup also has not been proven to cause diabetes and the leading causes of diabetes continue to be obesity, advancing age and heredity. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data shows that per capita consumption of high fructose corn syrup is actually on the decline, while obesity and diabetes rates continue to rise.3,4 David Klurfeld, Ph.D., from the Agricultural Research Service at the USDA noted, “This is a marketing issues, not a metabolic issue… The real issue is not high fructose corn syrup. It’s that we’ve forgotten what a real serving size is. We have to eat less of everything.”5

1. American Medical Association Press Release, June 17, 2008. http://www.sweetsurprise.com/sites/default/files/AMARelease6-17-08.pdf
2. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Use of Nutritive and Nonnutritive Sweeteners, Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, May 2012
http://www.eatright.org/About/Content.aspx?id=8363

3. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. Table 52 -- High fructose corn syrup: estimated number of per capita calories consumed daily, by calendar year. July 2011. http://www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/Sugar/data.htm
4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Diabetes Surveillance System. 2010. Long-term Trends in Diabetes, October 2010, and Prevalence of overweight, obesity and extreme obesity among adults: United States, trends 1960-62 through 2005-2006. Flegal KM, et al.. 2010. Prevalence and Trends in Obesity Among US Adults, 1999-2008. JAMA 303:3. Flegal KM, et al. 2012. Prevalence of Obesity and Trends in the Distribution of Body Mass Index Among US Adults, 1999-2010. JAMA 307:5.
5. David Klurfeld, PhD, Human Nutrition National Program Leader, Agricultural Research Service, USDA, Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Annual Meeting, June 8, 2009. http://www.science20.com/news_articles/confused_about_sugar_and_calories_youre_not_alone

Is high fructose corn syrup unnatural?

High fructose corn syrup is made from corn—a natural grain product. High fructose corn syrup contains no artificial or synthetic ingredients or color additives and meets the Food and Drug Administration’s requirements for use of the term “natural.”12 Ruth Kava, PhD, RD, from the American Council on Science and Health stated, “The idea that HFCS is bad because it’s not natural is simply incorrect,” adding that, “There is no difference between the fructose found in HFCS and that derived from fruit.”3

1. Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) § 101.22. http://ecfr.gpoaccess.gov/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ecfr&rgn=div8&view=text&node=21:2.0.1.1.2.2.1.1&idno=21
2. Letter from Geraldine June, FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, to Audrae Erickson, President of the Corn Refiners Association, July 3, 2008. As noted in the letter, the FDA’s longstanding policy on use of the term “natural” means that “nothing artificial (including artificial flavors) or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in or has been added to a food that would not normally be expected to be in the food.”
3. Dr. Ruth Kava, American Council on Science and Health, “High Fructose Corn Syrup By Any Other Name Would Be Just As Sweet”, American Council On Science And Health, 10/24/2011. http://www.acsh.org/factsfears/newsID.2999/news_detail.asp

Is high fructose corn syrup a genetically modified organism (GMO)?

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) itself is not genetically modified, though it can be made from GMO corn. However, research demonstrates that high fructose corn syrup made from GMO corn is exactly the same as high fructose corn syrup made from conventional corn1 because the genetically modified DNA or protein is degraded during the process that breaks down corn into HFCS, rendering the genetically modified DNA or protein undetectable.2

In addition, many prestigious scientific organizations around the world, including the National Academy of Sciences and the World Health Organization, agree that the use of genetically modified corn in our food supply is safe for people and the environment.3 GMOs are an important tool that enable farmers to use fewer chemicals and produce more food on less land, which is vital to sustainably feeding a growing global population.4

It is important to note that table sugar made from beets can also be manufactured using GMO crops. In fact, the USDA estimates that adoption of GMO sugar-beet varieties exceeded 95 percent of U.S. sugar-beet production in 2010.5

1. Elaine Watson, “CSPI: There are legitimate concerns about GMOs, but not around food safety, and labeling would be misleading,” FoodNavigator-USA, June 3, 2013, http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/People/CSPI-There-are-legitimate-concerns-about-GMOs-but-not-around-food-safety-and-labeling-would-be-misleading
2. Margaret C. Gawienowski, Steven R. Eckhoff, Ping Yang, P. John Rayapati, Thomas Binder and Donald P. Briskin, 1999, “Fate of Maize DNA During Steeping, Wet-Milling, and Processing,” Cereal Chemistry Journal 76(3):371, http://cerealchemistry.aaccnet.org/doi/abs/10.1094/CCHEM.1999.76.3.371
3. Knigel Holmes, “Richard Green on the Scientific Consensus and GMOs,” Skepti-Forum, March 27, 2014, http://www.skeptiforum.org/richard-green-on-the-scientific-consensus-and-gmos/
4. Mary Boote, Rosalie Ellasus, Rajesh Kumar, Eric Sachs Ph.D., Andy Hedgecock, “Who will benefit from your genetically modified crops? What does your company hope to achieve with genetic modification?” GMOAnswers, August 22, 2013
5. USDA “Fact Sheet,” February 2011, http://1.usa.gov/kBkNMt

Is high fructose corn syrup sweeter than sugar?

High fructose corn syrup and sugar have virtually the same level of sweetness.1 High fructose corn syrup was made to provide the same sweetness as sugar so that consumers would not notice a difference in sweetness or taste.2 Phil Lempert, The Supermarket Guru ®, wrote “HFCS was developed in the 1970s when the food industry began looking for alternatives to traditional cane sugar that could provide similar sweetness, taste and quality for a fraction of the price. … The resulting HFCS product is extremely similar to table sugar (sucrose) and has a similar taste.”3

Julie M. Jones, PhD, LN, CNS, professor of nutrition at the College of St. Catherine, provided a brief explanation of the composition and sweetness of HFCS in the Journal of Nutrition, “In reality, HFCS used in the United States contains either 55% fructose and 45% glucose (HFCS-55) or 42% fructose and 58% glucose (HFCS-42). This makes HFCS's sweetening intensity and overall composition only marginally different from the 50% fructose and 50% glucose composition of the sucrose it replaces.”4

1. Hanover LM, White JS. 1993. Manufacturing, composition, and applications of fructose. Am J Clin Nutr 58(suppl 5):724S-732S. http://www.ajcn.org/content/58/5/724S.full.pdf+html
2. White JS. 1992. Fructose syrup: production, properties and applications, in FW Schenck & RE Hebeda, eds, Starch Hydrolysis Products –Worldwide Technology, Production, and Applications. VCH Publishers, Inc. pp. 177-200.
3. Phil Lempert, The Supermarket Guru ®, Food, Nutrition, & Science from The Lempert Report, April 30, 2010. http://www.supermarketguru.com/index.cfm/go/sg.viewArticle/articleId/1197
4. Jones, JM. June 2009. Dietary Sweeteners Containing Fructose: Overview of a Workshop on the State of the Science, Journal of Nutrition 139: 6 1210S-1213S, http://jn.nutrition.org/content/139/6/1210S.full

Does high fructose corn syrup have a lot of fructose in it?

High fructose corn syrup is not high in fructose.1 The composition of high fructose corn syrup is essentially half fructose and half glucose, which is similar to sugar. Sugar is composed of 50% fructose and high fructose corn syrup has either 42% or 55% fructose.2 Allen Levin, PhD, Dean of the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences at the University of Minnesota discussed this confusion with Minnesota Public Radio. "So it got a bad name, the word fructose. Now you have high fructose corn sweeteners and it says high fructose. So immediately, the public is going to assume this is bad because fructose may not be so great for you. But it's really close to the same chemical composition as table sugar, sucrose. So it's really misinformation."3

1. See generally Alexander RJ. 1998. Sweeteners: Nutritive. Eagan Press; Hanover LM, White JS. 1993. Manufacturing, composition and applications of fructose. Am J Clin Nutr 58(suppl 5):724S-732S; White JS. 1992. Fructose syrup: production, properties and applications, in FW Schenck & RE Hebeda, eds, Starch Hydrolysis Products - Worldwide Technology, Production, and Applications. VCH Publishers, Inc. 177-200.
2. Hanover LM, White JS. 1993. Manufacturing, composition, and applications of fructose. Am J Clin Nutr 58(suppl 5):724S-732S. http://www.ajcn.org/content/58/5/724S.full.pdf+html
3. Allen Levine, Ph.D., University of Minnesota, Minnesota Public Radio, May 6, 2009. http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2009/05/05/sugarvcornsyrup/

Can studies conducted with pure fructose be applied to high fructose corn syrup?

Pure fructose is as different from high fructose corn syrup as it is from table sugar or honey. There is a lot of confusion around this per registered dietitian, Joy Bauer, “The term ‘high fructose corn syrup’ is a bit confusing, because [high fructose] corn syrup actually contains just about the same mix of sugar compounds as regular white sugar--the most widely used form of high fructose corn syrup is 55% fructose and 42% glucose.”1 High fructose corn syrup, like sugar and honey, contains both fructose and glucose in nearly equal proportions with glucose acting as a moderator to fructose.

Most studies conducted with pure fructose have been performed with abnormally high levels of fructose that are not found in normal human diets. Alan Aragon, M.S., shared this sentiment when noting, “In the single human study I’m aware of that linked fructose to a greater next-day appetite in a subset of the subjects, 30% of total daily energy intake was in the form of free fructose. This amounts to 135 grams, which is the equivalent of 6-7 nondiet soft drinks. Is it really that groundbreaking to think that polishing off a half-dozen soft drinks per day is not a good idea? Demonizing fructose without mentioning the dose-dependent nature of its effects is intellectually dishonest. Like anything else, fructose consumed in gross chronic excess can lead to problems, while moderate amounts are neutral, and in some cases beneficial.”2 Studies conducted with pure fructose are not representative of real world diets and cannot be applied to high fructose corn syrup because we consume fructose and glucose in combination.

1. Joy Bauer, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., Yahoo Health, May 27, 2010. http://health.yahoo.net/experts/joybauernutrition/corn-syrup-worse-sugar
2. Alan Aragon MS, Alan Aragon’s Blog, January 29, 2010. http://www.alanaragonblog.com/2010/01/29/the-bitter-truth-about-fructose-alarmism/

Does high fructose corn syrup block my body’s ability to know when it is full?

“There’s no evidence to date that HFCS affects appetite any differently than sucrose,” stated Karen Teff, Ph.D., Associate Director for the Institute for Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism at the University of Pennsylvania.1 This statement is supported by multiple scientific studies that have found no difference between the two sugars on your body’s feelings of fullness.

In a peer-reviewed study, Pablo Monsivais, Ph.D., M.P.H., and colleagues found that beverages sweetened with sugar, high fructose corn syrup and 1% milk all have similar effects on feelings of fullness.2 Another peer-reviewed study by Kathleen J. Melanson, Ph.D., R.D., et al. found “no differences in the metabolic effects” of high fructose corn syrup and sugar.3 Rayna Cooper, R.D., at the Family & Consumer Sciences at Penn State Extension noted, “Research shows there is no difference between consuming HFCS or table sugar in the following effects: glucose and insulin levels, triglycerides, hormones affecting appetite, weight gain, hunger, satiety and appetite.”4

1. Karen Teff, Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania, EatingWell, May 2009. http://www.eatingwell.com/nutrition_health/nutrition_news_information/whats_so_bad_about_high_fructose_corn_syrup?page=3
2. Monsivais P, Perrigue MM, Drewnowski A. 2007. Sugars and satiety: does the type of sweetener make a difference? Am J Clin Nutr. 86(1):116-123. http://www.ajcn.org/content/86/1/116.full
3. Melanson KJ, Zukley L, Lowndes J, Nguyen V, Angelopoulos TJ, Rippe JM. 2007. Effects of high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose consumption on circulating glucose, insulin, leptin, and ghrelin and on appetite in normal-weight women. Nutrition 23(2):103-112. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0899900706003923
4. Rayna Cooper, R.D., Nutrition Educator, Family & Consumer Sciences, Penn State Extension, “Family Living Focus: On Corn Syrup and High Fructose Corn Syrup”, York Daily News, January 4, 2012.

What’s the difference between fructose, corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup?

These are all very different products with distinctly different functions. Corn syrup is composed of mainly glucose and is used as a non-sweet thickener. High fructose corn syrup is made of almost equal portions of fructose and glucose and is used as a sweetener. Fructose is a naturally occurring sweetener found in fruits and honey. All of these products contain calories but the focus of consumer attention should not be on just one ingredient. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics advises, "Added sugars, as found in beverages with nutritive sweeteners, are not different than other extra energy in the diet for energy intake and body weight. Reducing intake of all added sugars, including sucrose, corn sweeteners, fructose, HFCS, and other forms of added sugars, is a recommended strategy to reduce energy intake in Americans."1

1. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Use of Nutritive and Nonnutritive Sweeteners, Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, May 2012
http://www.eatright.org/About/Content.aspx?id=8363

Why is high fructose corn syrup in so many products, even things that aren’t sweet?

High fructose corn syrup plays a key role in the natural integrity of food and beverage products that often has little to do with sweetness. Health expert, Ruth Litchfield, Ph.D., R.D., at Iowa State highlighted what other benefits are provided.1

  • “As a liquid, it is easily incorporated into beverages and also stays in solution better— making a higher quality product.
  • As a form of invert sugar, fructose combines with protein in the presence of heat to give browning—toasted bread is an example.
  • Using HFCS instead of granular sugar helps lock in moisture in baked products. This extends shelf life by keeping the baked product fresher for a longer time period. This same moistness also gives cookies and snack bars a softer texture.
  • Because it is a syrup (rather than granules), the fructose and glucose molecules do not form undesired crystals in candies and ice cream—giving those foods a smoother mouth feel and a more desirable product.
  • HFCS contributes thickness, or viscosity, to condiments and salad dressings.”

1. Ruth Litchfield, Ph.D., R.D., L.D. , High Fructose Corn Syrup – How sweet it is. http://www.extension.iastate.edu/Publications/PM2061.pdf

Is high fructose corn syrup safe?

Yes, there are no safety concerns. The safety of high fructose corn syrup is based on science and expert review accumulated over the past 40 years. In 1983, the FDA listed high fructose corn syrup as “Generally Recognized as Safe” (known as GRAS status) for use in food and reaffirmed that ruling in 1996. GRAS recognition by the FDA is important because it recognizes a long history of safe use as well as adequate scientific studies proving an ingredient’s safety. GRAS status is maintained indefinitely unless the FDA has a new reason to question an ingredient’s safety, in which case it will then look into maintaining or revoking the GRAS status.1

John White, Ph.D. noted, “Its safety was never seriously doubted because expert scientific panels in every decade since the 1960s drew the same conclusion: sucrose, fructose, glucose, and, latterly, HFCS did not pose a significant health risk, with the single exception of promoting dental caries [tooth decay].”2

In addition to government-convened expert panels, professional organizations have also confirmed the safety of high fructose corn syrup, including the American Medical Association (AMA)3 and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association (ADA)).4

1. 61 Fed. Reg. 43447 (August 23, 1996), 21 C.F.R. 184.1866. Direct Food Substances Affirmed as Generally Recognized as Safe; High Fructose Corn Syrup - Final Rule.
2. White JS. 2008. Straight talk about high-fructose corn syrup: what it is and what it ain't. Am J Clin Nutr 88(6):1716S-1721S.
3. American Medical Association. 2008. Report 3 of the Council on Science and Public Health (A-08).
4. American Dietetic Association, Hot Topics Paper on HFCS, December 2008.


Recommended Resources

Do Your Customers Know?
Fat contains more than twice as many calories per gram than HFCS and sucrose.

Source

“Macronutrients: the Importance of Carbohydrate, Protein and Fat,” McKinley Health Center, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2008.

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When it comes to sweeteners, making the right choice is critical to your brand and your bottom line.

At Corn Naturally, we'll help you make informed decisions with the latest facts on high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) from leading independent experts, including Mintel, Nielsen, NPD and top members and organizations of the scientific community. Come here for the tools and resources you need to make sound sweetener decisions.

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