High Fructose Corn Syrup Versus Cane Sugar

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and pure cane sugar are both highly processed sweeteners that are commonly found in many food products. In recent years, HFCS has increasingly been used as a replacement for cane sugar. Here is a little background on how the two sweeteners compare and whether one is healthier for you than the other.

High Fructose Corn Syrup

High fructose corn syrup was first manufactured by Richard O. Marshall and Earl R. Kooi in 1957. Dr. Y. Takasaki at the Agency of Industrial Science and Technology of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry in Japan was the first to industrialize the production of HFCS.

HFCS became popular in the American diet beginning in 1977, when high sugar tariffs forced producers to find a cheaper sweetener. Since then, the consumption of HFCS has gone up by 4,000%. HFCS is frequently used in place of cane sugar because it is cheaper to produce and has a longer shelf-life.

In the production of HFCS, corn syrup undergoes an enzymatic process to convert some of its glucose into fructose to create a desired level of sweetness. In the United States, HFCS has become an ever-present sugar additive in processed foods and beverages, including breads, cereals, breakfast bars, lunch meats, yogurts, soups, condiments and sodas.

Cane Sugar

Cane sugar, aka pure cane sugar, is sugar which is produced from sugarcane, a stout, fibrous grass that thrives in temperate to tropical regions. About half of the world's sugar cane is grown in Brazil and India. Sugar derived from sugarcane is generally more expensive than sugar from beets or other sources, such as corn.

Christopher Columbus introduced sugarcane to the New World in 1493 on his second voyage. Within 25 years, sugar was being shipped to Spain from the Americas.

Sugar is extracted by crushing the sugarcane in order to release its sweet juices, and then evaporating the juices to produce a concentrated crumble. This can then be refined and processed in a variety of ways to create white sugar, brown sugar, and molasses.

One could make the argument that cane sugar is more natural than HFCS because it is not mixed in vats, or chemically altered. However, cane sugar does undergo filtering, bleaching, and other types of processing.

Which is Healthier?

Although a number of studies have been conducted to determine if HFCS is healthier or less healthy than cane sugar, the results have been inconclusive and further research is needed. However, what is known is that the body processes sugar the same as it would HFCS and consuming either can contribute to health problems such as obesity, tooth decay, increased triglyceride levels, and type 2 diabetes.

Marketers and other advocates of HFCS claim that it is more natural than cane sugar, or even that it is all-natural. Such claims are misleading given the amount of processing applied to the raw product. Furthermore, when using HFCS instead of pure cane sugar in sodas, it can make them up to ten times richer in harmful carbonyl compounds. These compounds are elevated in people with diabetes and are blamed for causing diabetic complications such as nerve damage.

For a healthier diet, try to consume less than 40 to 45 grams of added sugars a day. Also, read labels and look for the type of sugars present. To cut back on the amount of sugar consumed, try to avoid sugary, non-diet sodas, and drink unsweetened beverages instead. Also, eat fewer processed and packaged foods. Snack on fruit, vegetables, whole-grain items and low-fat, low-calorie yogurt.

Taste Differences

Does soda sweetened with cane sugar taste different that soda made with HFCS? According to the Coca-Cola company, their research has determined that there is no discernible taste difference between Coke products made with each type of sweetener. Do you agree?