Sugar is making a comeback as consumers look for healthier alternatives to foods containing high fructose corn syrup. The problem is, scientists say sugar and high-fructose corn syrup are equally bad for you.
Many companies, including Pepsi, Pizza Hut, and Kraft Foods, are removing high-fructose corn syrup from their ingredients list and replacing it with sugar, reports The New York Times. Sugar was once studied as an addictive substance, blamed for hyperactivity and cavities in children, and had such a bad rap that cereal makers changed the name of products like Sugar Pops to Corn Pops. However, it is now being a promoted as a more natural, healthy ingredient compared to high-fuctuose corn syrup. "Sugar was the old devil, and high-fructose corn syrup is the new devil," said Marcia Mogelonsky, a senior analyst at the market-research company Mintel International.
While some people say sugar tastes better, or prefer cane or beet sugar because it is less processed, most people are turning away from high-fructose corn syrup because they believe it is more fattening than sugar. High-fructose corn syrup started being added to a wide variety of food, including soda, bread, yogurt, and frozen foods in the 1980s because it was easier to transport and cheaper than sugar. The obesity rate in the United States began rising rapidly around the same time and many believe the switch to high-fructose corn syrup is to blame.
However, no major studies have found definitive proof that high-fructose corn syrup is linked to poor health. The Food and Drug Administration considers both sweeteners natural, and the American Medical Association says that there is no difference between syrup and sugar in regard to obesity.
But the new trend is more about marketing than science. "For consumers, their perception is reality," said Jim Sieple, a senior vice president for Log Cabin syrup, which has stopped using high-fructose corn syrup. Michelle Obama helped promote sugar when she said she won't give Sasha and Malia foods made with high-fructose corn syrup. As companies switch back to sugar, they are suggesting that the new recipes are "retro," such as the sugar-based versions of Pepsi and Mountain Dew called Throwback.
The Corn Refiners Association is trying to fight the perception that their product is unhealthy with a website, sweetsurprise.com, and a multimillion dollar ad campaign. The Times says:
In one television advertisement, a mother pours fruit punch into a cup while another scolds her because the punch contains high-fructose corn syrup. When pressed to explain why it is so bad, the complaining mother is portrayed as a speechless fool.
The Sugar Association stopped advertising last year since sugar sales are up and their product is gaining on high-fructose corn syrup for the first time in three decades. In 2007 American adults ate on average 44 pounds of sugar compared to 40 pounds of high-fructose corn syrup. Scientists say the rise in obesity may lie in how large both those numbers are. Dr. Robert H. Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco says: "The argument about which is better for you, sucrose or HFCS, is garbage. Both are equally bad for your health."
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Sugar Is Back on Food Labels, This Time as a Selling Point [The New York Times]